Priests Accused of Sexually Abusing Deaf Children in Argentina to Soon Face Trial
Ezequiel Villalonga signs frantically with his hands to express the power he feels after years of suffering now that the priests whom he and other former students at an Argentine institute for the deaf accuse of abuse are finally going to trial.
Villalonga, 18, is one of about 20 ex-students of the Antonio Próvolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Mendoza province who say they were sexually abused, including cases of rape, between 2004 and 2016. Their alleged abusers go on trial starting Monday in a case that Pope Francis, an Argentine, has not commented on publicly despite its closeness to his papacy.
The complaints at the institute came to light at the end of 2016 and created a scandal that deepened when it emerged that one of the accused, the Rev. Nicola Corradi, had been reported for similar allegations at the Antonio Próvolo institute in Verona, Italy, and that the pope had been notified that Corradi was running a similar center in Argentina.
“Those of us from the Próvolo in Mendoza said: ‘no more fear. We have the power,'” Villalonga told The Associated Press with the help of an interpreter, explaining how others decided to come forward after an initial “brave” person did so.
The AP doesn't name alleged sexual assault victims unless they make their identities public, which Villalonga did in an interview in the headquarters of the human rights group Xumek, which is the plaintiff in the trial.
Alejandro Gullé, chief prosecutor in Mendoza, called the trial “unprecedented, one of the most important in this province, one whose importance will transcend this country.”
On trial for aggravated sexual abuse of minors, sexual touching and corrupting minors will be: Corradi, an Italian who is 83 and under house arrest; the Rev. Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old priest; and Armando Gómez, 63. The latter two are Argentines and in prison in Mendoza. Corbacho has pleaded not guilty and the other two defendants have not entered pleas.
They are charged with 28 alleged crimes against 10 deaf minors and face prison sentences of up to 20 years. It is the first in a series of trials in which other former members of the now-closed school will be judged. Others implicated include two nuns who allegedly participated or knew about the abuses, as well as former directors and employees who are accused of knowing about the abuse but taking no action.
Prosecutors say that not only were children sexually touched and abused, but were sometimes forced to watch pornography or perform sex acts among themselves.
Jorge Bordón, an institute employee, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 in the case for rape, sexual touching and corrupting minors by forcing children to perform sex acts on each other. But the former students at the Mendoza school believe they can achieve the first prison sentences for priests and clergy at the Roman Catholic institute, which has other branches. They are also demanding Francis strip the alleged abusers of their status as priests in the canonical process.
“Francis was very quiet about the abusive priests, but now the sentence is coming,” said Villalonga. “I know that the pope is afraid because the deaf have been brave.”
The Vatican has not commented publicly on the trial. The Holy See would be loath to be seen as interfering in a criminal trial, and typically defers all comment, as well as the outcome of its own investigations, until after all investigations by civil law enforcement are completed.
In 2017, it sent two Argentine priests to investigate what happened in Mendoza. Dante Simon, a judicial vicar, told the AP that the acts denounced are “horrible” and “more than plausible.” He said the pontiff expressed his sadness and told him that “he was very worried about this situation and it would be a labor.”
In a report submitted to the Vatican in June of that year, Simon requested the application of the maximum penalty to Corradi and Corbacho, that they be made to “resign directly by the Holy Father.” The report must be reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The case hits close to home for the Vatican, which is accused of having disregarded the warnings of the alleged Italian victims of Corradi, when just months earlier the pope had promulgated new rules to combat abuse in the church.
Corradi was singled out for similar abuses committed since the 1950s at the Provolo institute in Verona, Italy. His name appeared in a letter addressed to the pope in 2014 in which the Italian accusers mentioned several allegedly abusive priests who continued to exercise the ministry and said that Corradi and three other priests were in Argentina.
“Two and a half years have passed (since the Mendoza case was uncovered) and Francisco has not uttered a single word to the survivors of the Próvolo in Mendoza,” Paola González, whose 16-year-old daughter was an alleged victim at the institute.
According to the investigation, the alleged abusers especially targeted children who spent the night in the institute's shelters, some of whom came from surrounding provinces.
Prosecutor Gustavo Stroppiana said one victim claimed to have been “tied with chains” while abused.
“We found prophylactics and birth control pills” in raids carried on the Próvolo institute in Mendoza, he said.
The crimes allegedly took place in the dormitories of the two priests and of the children, in a loft and in a small chapel called the House of God where the children took first communion.
The children, with limited financial resources, didn't dare report the abuse because they were threatened with expulsion or the imprisonment of their parents, prosecutors said. Their communication skills were limited because they were not taught sign language at the school.
Authorities in Buenos Aires province recently ordered the arrest of Corradi for alleged abuses in the Próvolo Institute in La Plata, a city about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the capital, Buenos Aires. It is believed the Italian priest went to that center in the 1980s after he was transferred from Verona before heading to Mendoza in the 1990s.
The accusers' relatives say the transfers of Corradi would follow the church practice at the time of moving accused priests around the world to different parishes and locations.
Many Argentines are wondering why Francis did not remove Corradi from the Mendoza institute after being warned about the allegations against him in Verona.
Corradi's name appeared publicly in 2009 when 67 deaf people said they had been abused in the Verona institute by 24 priests, lay workers and religious brothers. They said he had been moved to Argentina. The Italian priest's name appeared again in a letter addressed to the pope in 2014 that pointed out the potential danger he represented to minors.
The Verona diocese sanctioned four of the 24 defendants, but not Corradi. There was no criminal case because of the elapsed time.
Faced with criticism by the families of the Argentine victims, the Archbishopric of Mendoza said it didn't know the background of the Italian priest when he arrived in the province and that the priest didn't depend on the local church but on a religious congregation based in Italy. It expressed its “solidarity and closeness” with the accusers and considered that “the corresponding responsibilities and sanctions” should be established.
Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, told the AP that she does not expect a response from the Vatican and the pope.
“Pope Francis will continue to pretend that he has no responsibility for the atrocities in Mendoza. If he does respond, it will be a pro forma statement about his commitment to ending child sex abuse in the Church.”
She added that when the crimes at the Verona school made world headlines in 2009 and 2010, “the pope was president of the Argentine bishops' conference. He could have ordered an investigation of the Mendoza and La Plata schools then.”
“And certainly, as pope, he could have acted years ago. He was notified by the Verona victims of Corradi's presence in Argentina.”
Villalonga said he hopes a conviction will restore his calm.
“The pope has ignored us, taken us the deaf for fools,” he said.
U.K. Man Who Made Up Child Abuse Claims Is Sentenced to 18 Years
by Palko Karasz
LONDON — A man whom British prosecutors called “a serial liar and a fraud” for making up claims of sexual abuse against high-profile public figures — fabrications the authorities said cost 2 million pounds to investigate — was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday.
The man, Carl Beech, 51, was found to have made up allegations against — among others — Ted Heath, a former prime minister, and Jimmy Savile, the disgraced television personality who sexually abused 72 victims, including children.
Mr. Beech claimed that he had been taken out of school, transported to sex parties and abused at more than 20 locations in London and southeastern England from the ages of 7 to 16, by a group of prominent public figures in a pedophile ring. Among his most explosive and serious allegations, reported at length in the British news media, was that he had witnessed the murders of three children.
Along the way, Mr. Beech built a public persona as an ally for victims of child sexual abuse. He wrote a blog, worked on his memoirs and spoke at a conference on living with the effects of abuse. Prosecutors said Mr. Beech received £22,000, about $27,000, in compensation.
“It is important to remember the impact his lies have had on survivors of abuse, who took Beech into their confidence and for whom he was apparently setting himself up as a champion and spokesperson,” Liz Reid, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement on Friday.
Ms. Reid said that “Beech's actions betray true victims, who should never be afraid of coming forward to reveal abuse.” Investigators spent the equivalent of $2.5 million investigating them, they said.
Mr. Beech — who was known as Nick during the investigation into his claims, called “Operation Midland” — was convicted of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud. In a separate trial in January, he admitted to four counts of making indecent images of children, one count of possessing indecent images of children and one count of voyeurism.
Investigators began to doubt Mr. Beech's claims at a time when several high-profile inquiries revealed cover-ups of abuse by people like Mr. Savile, who had previously been shielded by their celebrity status.
A nearly yearlong investigation by the BBC publicly cast doubt on the allegations coming from Mr. Beech in 2015, just as the broadcaster was facing questions over Mr. Savile's activities as a television personality with the BBC. Among the BBC's conclusions was that at least one of the three murders Mr. Beech claimed to have witnessed could not have happened as described.
A year later, the police accused Mr. Beech, who has worked as a health care inspector and school governor, of being a pedophile himself. The Northumbria Police found images of child abuse and a voyeuristic recording of a boy on his electronic devices.
As his lies began to unravel, Mr. Beech fled to Sweden. He was extradited last October. During a 10-week trial, which ended on Monday, he maintained his account of the pedophile ring. But a jury concluded that he had invented all seven accusations that he first made, in 2012.
Mr. Beech claimed that much of the alleged abuse had happened at the Dolphin Square apartment block, near the British Parliament, where many lawmakers have apartments. He also claimed to have had a lifelong fear of water because he had been tortured in the swimming pool there, subjected to electric shock treatment and puncture wounds to his groin.
But photographs and his ex-wife's testimony showed that he enjoyed swimming, and medical records indicated only a skiing injury from when he was 15.
Of the three children Mr. Beech claimed to have seen killed, two never existed. His account of a third murder — that of Martin Allen, who disappeared in 1979 at the age of 15 and was never found — gave false hope of closure to the boy's family.
Argentine ex-boxing champ jailed for child sexual abuse
Argentine former welterweight world boxing champion Carlos Baldomir was sentenced to 18 years in prison Wednesday for the repeated sexual abuse of a child, a court announced.
The 48-year-old, who was World Boxing Council champion for 10 months in 2006, was arrested in 2016 following allegations that he had abused the girl over two years, starting when she was just seven in 2012.
He was unanimously convicted of "repeated sexual abuse" of a minor.
When the trial began on Thursday, Baldomir showed his middle finger to those present, a provocative gesture recorded by television cameras.
Baldomir's greatest career highlight came in January 2006 when he shocked the unified welterweight champion Zab Judah.
After a successful defense of his WBC crown against the late Arturo Gatti, Baldomir lost his title to Floyd Mayweather in a November 2006 unification bout.
He retired in 2014 with a record of 49 wins, 15 by knock-out, 16 defeats and six draws.
He started his career as a trainer and in 2016 was given an award by the Argentine congress for achievement in sport.
Baldomir had been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest but before that was living with his wife and four-year-old son. He has three daughters from his first marriage.
Part of the difficulty of reaching a reliable estimate is that various surveys define child sexual abuse differently.
What we know about child sexual abuse rates in the US
The spike in interest around Jefrrey Epstein's charges could create an opportunity for discussing just how prevalent child sexual abuse is. But estimates vary.
Federal prosecutors raided the home of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein earlier this month, after charging him with sex trafficking. There, they say they discovered lewd photographs of girls as young as 14. Epstein is a convicted felon who was sentenced in 2008 for sex crimes involving a minor.
The spike in interest around Epstein's allegations could create an opportunity for discussing just how prevalent child sexual abuse is. Estimates vary, but not widely – somewhere between 8% and 12% of children in the US have experienced sexual abuse.
Part of the difficulty of reaching a reliable estimate is that various surveys define child sexual abuse differently. In 2013, Catherine Townsend sifted through dozens of studies for Darkness to Light, a US not-for-profit that aims to prevent child sexual abuse. Townsend used several criteria for inclusion such as:
Child sexual abuse includes any sexual act between an adult and a young child, regardless of whether force or coercion is used.
Child sexual abuse includes both contact and non-contact sexual acts.
Child sexual abuse includes forced or coerced sexual acts between two children when there is an age or power differential. This can include unwanted or forcible peer abuse.
The overview of all the research looked at six different surveys published between 2000 and 2011 and found that the rate was significantly different between genders: about one in seven girls and one in 25 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.
Overall, the research suggests that around one in 10 children are sexually abused.
Man who live streamed sexual abuse of child gets 33 years
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) — A southern Illinois man who pleaded guilty to live streaming on the internet his sexual abuse of a child has been sentenced to more than 33 years in federal prison.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced this week's sentencing in federal court of 42-year-old Travis J. Varble of Alton.
Varble's was charged after law enforcement officials in Auburn, Alabama, discovered a recorded video that contained child pornography and found evidence that the sexual abuse occurred in southern Illinois. Ultimately, Vrable was identified as the man in the video and authorities determined that the victim was a child he was caring for.
At the time Varble was identified, he was in prison after being convicted and sentenced in Madison County for sexually abusing the same child.
I lost a student to sex trafficking and murder. We woefully fail to protect our children.
American children are in sexual, physical and emotional peril. With kids in cages and trafficked on the street, their vulnerability is our failure.
by LARRY STRAUSS
In October 2015, Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Judy Chu and Karen Bass (in whose district I reside) introduced a resolution urging Congress to pass a "Children's Bill of Rights." As Gutierrez put it that day, “This is not controversial stuff. It's basic human rights for children.”
House Resolution 476 included such assertions as:
Children ought to be protected from harm;
They ought to be able to live in healthy and supportive environments;
Children ought to have access to appropriate medical services and educational opportunities;
Adults, such as those serving in the 114th Congress, should be compelled to consider the effect of their decisions on the health, safety and well-being of children.
The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; in the nearly four years since then no action has been taken.
Perhaps congressional leadership found reasonable argument against protecting children. Perhaps they deemed the Children's Bill of Rights unnecessary because our constitution and legal codes are so comprehensive in protecting everyone.
Our failure to protect children
Comprehensive like the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court and the Trump administration have gutted because our political system is so all-inclusive and color blind.
Or like the Equal Rights Amendment, which has never been ratified because, dissenters claim, women are already covered by the United States Constitution as it was written and we have always done such a great job of protecting women, as well as non-white people and children.
Perhaps congress has dismissed a Children's Bill of Rights as superfluous, because taking care of children ought to be left to parents and families.
After all, most of us who are raising — or have raised — children probably do at least an adequate job taking care of them. Why would we need Congress or anyone else reminding us of our kids' needs or our responsibilities?
But as someone who works in a school that has had as many as 20% of our students in foster care, and many more not living with their parents or with parents in homeless shelters or automobiles, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it isn't enough that we provide for the children we sire or adopt. It is time we all gave a damn about other people's children.
Protections exist, but fall short
There are plenty among us who do care, not just educators and other public servants but good people from all walks of life who understand the social contract with the next generation. But the magnanimous acts of decent people have never been sufficient to mitigate the cruelty and indifference that is the reality for children — especially the most vulnerable children — in this world.
With kids in cages and toddlers separated from their parents by border agents, children throughout our country are traumatized by poverty and violence and loss.
Our children are also in sexual peril. They are being trafficked and otherwise exploited. The alleged crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and R. Kelly demonstrate not only the grotesque degeneracy of some powerful and prominent men but also the vast circles of complicity that enable such monsters.
Legal protections for children already exist, of course. As a public educator, for example, if I am in any way suspicious that a child I teach — or know of at all — might be the victim of child abuse I am bound by law to report it to law enforcement or child protective services. My colleagues in education are similarly bound, as well as social workers and health care professionals across the country. We can lose our jobs if we fail to report suspected child abuse but, needless to say, those mandates are insufficient to protect children in a world of depravity and indifference.
I discovered this first-hand when a former student of mine was murdered in 2014. Aubreyanna Sade Parks was a brilliant and hardworking but troubled girl, college-bound until zero-tolerance policies got her kicked out of school for fighting; soon after she was either enticed or kidnapped into sexual exploitation. When she tried to escape she was stabbed and left on the street, perhaps to dissuade any other girls from contemplating their freedom.
At Aubreyanna's funeral, I watched her younger sister sobbing, wailing into the limp shoulder of their devastated mother. A family friend told me the sister had not stopped crying since she'd learned her sister was killed; even during what little sleep she got they could hear her sobs.
We had failed those sisters — the lost one and the traumatized survivor. Our school had failed Aubreyanna. The entire school system had failed her. The child welfare system had failed her. An absent father and a distressed young mother might have put her at risk, but blaming them is just an excuse for our collective failure. Even convicting her murderer is little comfort. We failed her long before his trial.
Children shouldn't be left to abuse
No child asks for poverty or parental inadequacy. Those of us fortunate enough to grow up with love and security should be fighting for a world in which every child has what they need. It is not impossible; we just have to be willing to intelligently and compassionately commit adequate resources.
And we have to have the courage to confront all sexual predators, even the ones with the power of fame and wealth. If enabling a wealthy pedophile — as former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta did when he was a United States attorney — is not a crime, then no child is safe. If everyone who assisted or gave cover to sexual predators of children — wealthy or otherwise — cannot be held accountable, then no child is safe.
And as a mandated child abuse reporter, I am compelled to report the following:
Those in Congress who will not pass laws that explicitly criminalize complicity in child exploitation and take meaningful action — including adequate funding — to fix a broken system of child protection are themselves complicit in the exploitation and abuse of children.
NY Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Prepare To File Lawsuits Against Abusers
by KAREN DEWITT
Beginning on August 14, New Yorkers who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have a one-year window of opportunity to file civil suits against their abusers, under the terms of the Child Victims Act passed by the legislature earlier this year. Thousands of cases are expected to be filed, with payouts potentially in the millions.
Gordon Smith was 14-years-old when he says he was first abused by two priests at a St. Patrick's Catholic Church and school in Albany in the early 1960s.
He was filling in as a janitor for his father, who was sick. He says the abuse continued, on a weekly basis, for three years.
“It was about as horrific as it could get,” said Smith, in an interview with public radio and TV. “We're talking about molestation, we're talking about sodomization, we're talking about oral sex.”
One of the priests that Smith is accusing, Father Donald Starks, appears on a list kept by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese of priests with “credible” accusations against them. Starks died in 1989.
He says the priests threatened him.
“They told me that if I ever said a word, first of all no one would believe me, because it would be my word against a priest's,” Smith said. “Then they also said that they would make sure my father never worked again and ruin my family.”
Smith found himself in a position no child should be in, protecting his own father from the situation. He says his dad, a World War II veteran, kept guns in the house.
“I knew that if he found out there was going to be a problem,” Smith said. “Because he would use one of the guns and go after him.”
For decades he told no one. Smith drank for years, until he says he got married and straightened out. He first sought help in 2005, and asked the church to pay for his therapy. They paid for one session, then called and said they did not believe him.
Smith said he left the Catholic Church, and no longer believes in God.
“When you are being abused and the crucifix hangs on the wall, and as a child you are looking at it and saying ‘Why are you letting this happen', and it continues,” Smith. “You come to believe that there is no God to help you. There is no help.”
Smith, who now lives in Cohoes and works in the financial services industry, is preparing to file his lawsuit against the church on August 14. Under the previous statute of limitation laws he would have had to file charges when he was in his 20s. Under the one-year window in the new law, anyone who was abused can initiate civil court action.
Smith's attorney, Jennifer Freeman, says The Marsh Law Firm, where she is a senior counsel, has 515 cases lined up and ready to be filed in civil courts in New York on August 14.
“This is landmark legislation,” said Freeman, who says New York went from being one of the worst states in which to seek recourse for childhood sexual abuse, to being one of the best.
The Catholic Church in New York for years lobbied against the Child Victims Act, but dropped its opposition earlier this year. The Diocese is not disputing or fighting any of the accusations.
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, with the Albany Diocese, in a videotaped message about the upcoming civil cases, says he supports the victims in seeking “justice and healing.”
“There's no place in our family of faith for abusers to act out, regardless of their status, or to hide from their crimes,” said Scharfenberger. “Nor should anyone fear calling them out, past or present.”
Smith says he wants himself and other survivors to be heard.
“If there's one person sitting out there who sees my story and hears me, and says ‘hey that was my situation too,' and goes forward and talks to a doctor or talks to a therapist and gets help," said Smith, who added that's more important than any court case.
Midlands Voices: Everyone has a stake in ending child abuse
by Gene Klein
“Why didn't you run, why didn't you say something, why didn't you speak out sooner?”
These are some of the questions I hear repeatedly of survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault and even human trafficking. As if it is their responsibility to get help.
The truth is, it is very rare that a child will ever tell. Did you know, on average, from the time abuse has occurred to the time a child finds the courage to tell a trusted adult is nine years?
Survivors tend to ask themselves, “Who will believe you?” “Will you be retaliated against?” “What will happen to your family/friends?” Unfortunately, these fears are real. Treating sexual abuse as taboo only compounds survivors' self-inflicted shame and humiliation. We need to create a culture that removes the shame and silence surrounding abuse.
Federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman says it best: “The alleged behavior (of Jeffrey Epstein) shocks the conscience.”
It is easier to think this problem only affects others and that it does not exist in our community. The truth is, it happens right here in Omaha, and it happens every day.
The statistics are startling. One out of 10 children (boys and girls) is sexually abused before their 18th birthday. More than 90% of sexually abused children are abused by someone they know or love. In the past year, Project Harmony served over 2,750 children, spanning all races, genders, ages and socioeconomic types. There are 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in the United States, and it is time we listened.
Every day I see the courage of children coming forward to share what they have experienced, and every day I witness the power of resilience. But our children cannot overcome sexual abuse alone. It is not their responsibility — they need each of us to stand up and say, “Enough!
It is our responsibility, as adults, to be someone in the life of a child and provide the unconditional love and support they need — frequently telling and showing the children in our lives how much we care about them. The most important thing we, as a community, can do is keep an open line of communication. Our best defense against child sexual abuse or sex trafficking is the relationship we have with our children. Children who are confident and feel loved and supported are less vulnerable to manipulation tactics.
It is our responsibility to protect children and make sure they are free from harm and feel safe. By eliminating opportunities for children to be in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults and older youth, we can dramatically reduce the risk of abuse.
It is our responsibility to talk about it. Each allegation should open our eyes to the insidious nature of sexual abuse. It is essential to teach children about physical boundaries from an early age. They should be taught how to say “no” and mean it when anyone crosses a physical boundary.
It is our responsibility to believe children when they say they've been hurt. The single most damaging thing we can do is to dismiss, disregard or outright negate a child's attempt to disclose abuse. We can either amplify or de-escalate a child's anxiety depending on our own internal reaction. Be prepared to react calmly and sensibly if a child discloses abuse or if you suspect boundaries have been violated.
And it is our responsibility to report. In the state of Nebraska, we are all mandatory reporters. Contact your local law enforcement or the child abuse hotline if you suspect a child has been abused or neglected. You will never regret making the call, but you could end up regretting it if you don't.
Together, we can end child abuse. End it. But to do this — to really do this — we all have to have a stake in it. You have to have a stake in it. You are part of the solution.
Time and truth: Hudson church releases report on orphanage abuse claims
by Amanda Garrett
All human trafficking charges were dropped against two men involved in an orphanage that one of the megachurch's new preachers funded and helped lead in the Philippines.
This seemed to confirm what Coffey had told his congregation all along: There was no wrongdoing at the orphanage, and the arrest of his longtime friend and pastoral colleague Tom Randall and two others in the Philippines was a mistake.
Coffey ended the tweet with the hashtag #timeandtruth.
But now, after much more time has passed, a painful new truth is emerging about sex abuse allegations at the orphanage and how almost everything Coffey told the congregation about the case over the past five years was wrong.
Thousands of members of Christ Community Chapel (CCC) — which has churches in Hudson, Akron's Highland Square neighborhood and Aurora and averages 4,000 attendees a week — will learn Sunday the findings of a new 27-page report based on a review by a former FBI agent and CCC member. Among other things, it concluded:
• Children at the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in Lucena, Philippines, were most likely sexually abused by staff.
• Randall — who was not accused of sex crimes himself — for years misled Coffey, church members and others about what happened.
• CCC took in more than $3 million from Randall's nonprofit — World Harvest Ministries, which had supported the orphanage and other missions — when it was dissolved following Filipino officials' raid of the orphanage.
• CCC later administered some of the World Harvest Ministries money to fund the legal defense of the orphanage administrator and his son, who were accused of raping and molesting boys and girls.
• Coffey for five years relied entirely on what Randall told him about the orphanage, the allegations and the Filipino court proceedings without making any inquiries of his own.
"Tom [Randall] believed the Filipino workers were innocent, so I believed the Filipino workers were innocent," Coffey said in a written statement provided to the Akron Beacon Journal on Friday.
"I thought the [CCC] review would bear that out. It didn't. That means I made — and ultimately led many of you to make — the horrible mistake of discrediting an accuser," Coffey wrote. "That was wrong, and I am very sorry."
Randall, a missionary who traveled the U.S. and the world for more than 30 years, did not reply to a Facebook message seeking comment for this story.
Randall quietly quit CCC after church elders sought his resignation June 3 over "a clear violation of pastoral ethics."
His departure — which came two months before the church report was complete — was not directly tied to how he handled the abuse allegations in the Philippines, a church spokeswoman said, but was instead prompted by a piece of Randall's five-year campaign to obfuscate the truth.
CCC leaders this year discovered on their own that Randall faked an email that purportedly provided another missionary's firsthand account of the police raid at the orphanage in 2014. Randall wrote it himself, a church spokeswoman said.
The CCC review was conducted this year after a handful of church members, later joined by a couple of others in the Greater Akron Christian community, requested that church leaders hire a third party to investigate.
CCC instead brought in an insider, Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a CCC member who is a former FBI agent. Her review never aimed to establish criminal wrongdoing like an investigation might.
Rather, Lewis-Johnson focused on providing the church with information so it could assess its own response to the abuse allegations 8,344 miles away from CCC's main campus in Hudson.
She instead relied on translations of Filipino documents from criminal and civil cases involving the Sankey orphanage, church documents and correspondence and some interviews — most, if not all of which had already been compiled and posted online at justiceforsankey.com by church members and others pushing CCC for an independent probe.
Here is some of what they found.
Tom Randall has told various versions of how Sankey Samaritan Orphanage came to be.
No matter how it happened, the orphanage started accepting children in a poor, rural area of the Philippines in 2000.
Some were from troubled homes, but many had nearby families who surrendered their children because they were so poor that they couldn't afford to feed and house them.
While Randall's name never appears in Filipino incorporation papers for the orphanage, he has referred to himself as the founder of Sankey as recently as this year. Events laid out in the report make it clear that he considered himself in charge.
Randall used his own nonprofit — World Harvest Ministries, established in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1992 — to provide money to Sankey.
The Randalls, who once lived in the Philippines, visited the orphanage over the years, but lived in Oklahoma much of time time while Tom Randall worked as chaplain for the Professional Golf Association Champions Tour. When Randall left that job, he and his wife moved to Stow.
On Nov. 1, 2013, Randall joined the staff of CCC.
Four days later, bad news arrived.
Joseph Mauk, another missionary and ministry partner of Randall's, contacted Randall and said his family had letters from two girls at the orphanage about abuse. The CCC report included summaries and excerpts from the letters.
"Before I share my shameful secret, I hope that whoever reads this won't change their opinion of me," wrote one girl. "But now I really need to talk about it because I don't want the same thing to happen to anyone else."
The letter goes on to describe how Sankey's administrator — Perfecto "Toto" Luchavez — grabbed her and violently kissed her. The letter abruptly ends midsentence before the girl finishes telling her story, the CCC report said.
Another letter from a second girl described multiple, escalating incidents, the CCC report said.
Mauk urged Randall not to tell Luchavez.
"If you give [Luchavez] any indication you have been informed of this, innocent people may suffer and most likely no additional evidence of wrongdoing will ever come forth from our kids," Mauk wrote in an email cited in the CCC report.
It is not clear whether Randall told anyone at CCC about the abuse allegations at the orphanage. But Randall, ignoring Mauk's advice, immediately called Luchavez, the CCC report said.
Randall would later say he felt no great urgency to investigate since one of the girls who wrote a letter had a "pattern of false allegations" every couple of years since she was 13, the CCC report said.
Randall said he either spoke on the phone with the accused, who denied the allegation, and then "confronted" the girl. Or, Randall "confronted" the girl in front of the accused "and she admitted the allegations were false."
Neither method would likely extract the truth, the CCC report points out, because Randall "reversed the typical role of victim and subject, with the subject being believed on the spot, while the victim was interrogated for lying."
The Randalls, who usually visited the Philippines over Christmas, arrived at Sankey Dec. 11, 2013, about six weeks after learning of the abuse allegations.
The Philippines National Bureau of Investigation raided Sankey orphanage Jan. 13, 2014, removing 31 children and placing them with social services.
In an affidavit, the government said it received information from the U.S. Embassy in Manila and others that "operators of the orphanage are trafficking adults and minors and are also allegedly sexually abusing the orphans."
The day after the raid, the Filipino government wrote an arrest affidavit for Toto Luchavez, his son Jake and a third man, Melvin Garcia, a former dorm parent at Sankey.
In it, officials said two boys, ages 13 and 11, were forced to perform oral sex on Jake Luchavez, and a girl, age 11 or 12, was forced to do the same with Garcia.
"There exists a pattern of continuing sexual abuse and exploitation occurring inside the orphanage's premises with the maintainer [Toto Luchavez] as the sexual predator," said the government affidavit cited in the CCC report.
Both Toto and Jake Luchavez faced human trafficking charges. The government recommended Randall be charged as an accessory and for obstructing the investigation.
In an affidavit, investigators said Randall was told several times about sexual abuse, "but for reasons known only to him, [he] chose to ignore the complaints."
Randall's arrest ignited a firestorm in Hudson.
Coffey, who had known Randall for more than 20 years, publicly said his friend and fellow pastor had done nothing wrong. The pastor publicly repeated what Randall told him: One or two girls at Sankey had claimed they had been kissed, but retracted their stories.
"In the Filipino government, the way they work with that kind of accusation is they take action first and then they start to ask questions and try to figure out later," Coffey told his congregation.
Randall — who was communicating with Coffey from jail — apparently didn't mention the rape allegations against Sankey staff.
After 22 days, Randall was released from jail without being prosecuted and returned to Ohio, but the saga of Sankey continued.
It is not clear what happened to Garcia, but charges of human trafficking were dropped against Toto Luchavez and his son — only to be replaced by child abuse and sex abuse charges.
But the criminal cases languished until 2016, when a judge provisionally dismissed the charges against father and son after prosecution witnesses failed to show up in court.
The judge didn't clear the father and son of wrongdoing, the CCC report makes clear, stating that the definition of probable cause remained and that "abuse was more likely to have occurred than not."
By then, Sankey was closed.
Social workers in the Philippines discovered additional claims of abuse involving eight children.
One girl also said she was asked to massage Toto Luchavez for money, the report said. And two others said they were kidnapped off the streets when they were 10 and 11 years old and taken to Sankey, where they were kept in a gym for almost a week before escaping.
Based on the social service agency findings, Sankey lost its license in April 2014.
Randall, however, continued to send money to Toto Luchavez, only now the money flowed through CCC.
Sometime after he was released from jail, Randall dissolved his nonprofit World Harvest Ministries and turned over nearly $3 million in cash, investments and assets to the church at Coffey's suggestion, the CCC report said.
Earlier this year, someone realized the church was wiring money to Toto Luchavez at Randall's request.
When church leadership learned of the transfers, they ordered them to cease, the CCC report said.
In previous years, CCC also transferred funds to pay the legal expenses and bond of Luchavez and his son, the CCC report said.
The CCC report concludes by saying it contains only "highlights" of facts reviewed "which aim to provide CCC with enough information on which to assess past decisions and adjust court moving forward."
Yet the report will likely stun CCC's congregation, which for years has been told nothing bad happened at the orphanage and that Randall — who continued to preach locally and around the world — was the the true victim of the scandal.
"More than it harmed the church," the CCC report said, "the conduct harmed victims who perhaps wanted nothing more than to be believed.
Megachurch volunteer accused of child sex abuse faces new charges, SC prosecutor says
by CHARLES DUNCAN
A man accused of molesting children in a South Carolina megachurch preschool program faces 10 new sexual abuse charges, court records show.
Police in North Charleston arrested Jacop Hazlett in November after he was allegedly caught on a security camera molesting a 3-year-old boy in a preschool classroom at NewSpring church, court filings show.
Investigators initially charged Hazlett with 14 counts related to sexually abusing minors at the church, according to the court index. A grand jury this week indicted the 28-year-old North Charleston man on 10 new counts related to the alleged abuse.
Investigators identified five new victims, Don Sorenson, a prosecutor with the 1st Circuit Solicitor's Office, told WCSC. Sorenson told the station that police have found 15 victims who say Hazlett abused them.
The new indictments do not say if the alleged victims were abused at the church, according to WCIV. But the filings accuse Hazlett of 10 more counts of abuse or child exploitation that police say happened between Sept. 23 and Nov. 26, 2018, the station reports.
Hazlett was arrested Nov. 28, The State reported.
At least four lawsuits have been filed against the megachurch and Hazlett.
NewSpring has 14 church campuses around South Carolina, according to the church's website. The lawsuit notes that the church collected more than $40 million in donations,” McClatchy newsgroup has previously reported.
The lawsuit states, “NewSpring Church reviewed its security camera footage going back ninety days and found fourteen separate incidents where Jacop Hazlett sexually abused boys in the three-to-four-year-old day care room bathroom,” The State reported.
Yet again Britain's pitiful child protection record is in the spotlight
It's not enough to say "sorry" after the shocking report into abuse in Nottingham. It's time this affluent nation learned from past mistakes.
In his book The Disappearance of Childhood, the American writer and educator Neil Postman wrote: ‘‘Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” Last week, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its damning investigation into children in care in Nottinghamshire.
It gives gruelling details of how generations of children, living in a climate of fear, were horrendously abused by predatory carers in homes and foster families while Nottingham city council and Nottinghamshire county council, as well as police, social workers and the Crown Prosecution Service, repeatedly failed to act.
What can we learn from the messages these children send? How can decades of abuse occur, and why is so little invested in childhood?
In 1985, 400 children absconded from a Nottinghamshire home, including 70 girls who had “fled” more than once. In 1989, an internal investigation into a 14-year-old girl who had sex with a number of boys in a home, incredibly reported: “At no time did this take part against her will.” In one home, a 16-year-old sexual offender and suspected psychopath was placed in the same unit as an “inadequate” 11-year-old. One care worker had a conviction for grievous bodily harm. “We sort people out,” he said.
“You were almost made to feel they were objects,” reported another residential care worker of the fragile children in need of nurture and protection. Instead, they were beaten, raped – vaginally, orally and anally – and sexually assaulted, and when they sought help… “I was told to stop lying”; “I felt very alone … sick, dirty and ashamed.”
Sixteen residential staff and 10 foster carers have been imprisoned. Professor Alexis Jay, the inquiry chairwoman, said: “Despite decades of evidence and many reviews showing what needed to change, neither of the councils learned from their mistakes, meaning more children suffered unnecessarily.”
November marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 196 countries. Its 54 articles demand that we uphold the best interests of the child, right to life, children's development and respect for their views. In the UK, the convention is still not incorporated into domestic law. As a result, we have no statutory duty for government to consider the impact on children of decision-making. We have no children's minister in cabinet. Instead, last month Kemi Badenoch became the fifth children's minister in four years, a junior appointment.
In the UK, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is still not incorporated into domestic law
The report card on UK children living in what is an affluent country is pitiful: four million in poverty; a punishing benefits cap; poor housing; rising rates of mental ill health; inadequate funding for schools and childcare. The list goes on. And, as the IICSA's investigation underlines, when children speak out, too often they are disbelieved and discredited. The police's unequivocal response to claims of serial abuse by Carl Beech is not the norm.
The IICSA investigated Nottinghamshire councils not because the credibility of survivors had suddenly been validated but as a result of the number of allegations, then 350, now at 418. What triggered the disclosures is an extraordinary alliance between David Hollas MBE, a retired army lieutenant colonel, and two survivors of childhood abuse, Mickey Summers and Mandy Coupland, who persuaded others to come forward.
Hollas had met an ex-squaddie, a survivor from a children's home, who was protesting in the street about his experiences. Five years ago, it prompted Hollas to campaign for a national inquiry. Council officials were obstructive but, with the support of others, the result is last week's report. Advocacy and counselling for survivors are also now established, but shamefully the funding runs out next year.
In 2018, Jon Collins, then leader of Nottingham city council, said he would only apologise “when there is something to apologise for”. Apologies have now been made, however inadequate, but still, Hollas points out, accountability and punishment for profound neglect of duty is absent – as is so often the case (Rotherham, Rochdale, Islington). “It won't stop until those happy to take the big bucks take the big fall,” he says.
The two councils have six months to conduct an independent evaluation of risk and provide an action plan. “Then what?” Hollas asks. The reply would be so much more convincing if it was anchored in a society in which children are believed and properly protected, and their rights robustly upheld.
Teenage girl making sexual abuse claim sexually assaulted by detective dealing with case
Neil David Kimball, originally charged with raping 15-year-old victim while she was tied or bound, expected to receive three years in prison
by Karen Zraick
A Los Angeles County sex crimes investigator accused of raping a teenager after having been assigned to investigate her previous sexual assault allegations has pleaded guilty to lesser charges, and is expected to be sentenced to three years in prison.
It was at least the third time the detective, Neil David Kimball of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was accused of misconduct while on duty, though he was not charged as a result of the first two allegations.
District Attorney Gregory Totten of Ventura County, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement that Kimball, 46, met the then-15-year-old victim in 2017 when she reported a sexual assault.
He befriended her and then sexually assaulted her, according to the statement.
Kimball was originally charged with raping the victim while she was tied or bound. Kimball was also accused of “witness intimidation by threat of force”.
But Patrice Koenig, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office, said that prosecutors later determined they could not prove that Kimball had used force during the encounter, which she said took place in his trailer in Camarillo, in southern Ventura County.
The girl did not report the encounter. Rather, when a different officer took over her case about a year later, her father told the new investigator about the assault, Ms Koenig said.
Kimball pleaded guilty last week to a lewd act with a child and unlawful sexual intercourse, and is expected to be sentenced to three years in prison at his next appearance, on 8 August. He must also register as a sex offender.
In a statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said that Kimball's pay was suspended in March and that it was seeking to terminate him immediately. A lawyer for Kimball declined to comment.
Kimball's plea comes just more than a month after Sara Abusheikh, a Los Angeles fashion designer, wrote in a post on Medium about her experience with the detective after she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance in 2014, and reported it to the authorities.
Kimball was assigned to her case, but she wrote that he never investigated, and instead said wildly inappropriate things to her.
Ms Abusheikh wrote that Kimball teased her about going back to her assailant and suggested she “let him make love to you gently”.
“His only interest in the details of my rape came in the form of perverse, sick questions, and he – most tellingly – suggested he come inside to get high,” she wrote.
She later filed a restraining order against her assailant, which led Kimball to joke that she was paranoid, she wrote. When she reported his inappropriate behaviour to his supervisor, word got back to Kimball immediately, she added.
The next summer, after getting help from a rape treatment centre, she met with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which declined to prosecute the case, she wrote.
A deputy district attorney told her Kimball was “a fine detective” and insisted there was no evidence to back up her claim, she wrote.
“And the Special Victims Bureau? It only functioned to protect not one, but two, alleged rapists,” Ms Abusheikh concluded in her essay.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to comment on Ms Abusheikh's post.
Last year, Ms Abusheikh shared screenshots of text messages she said were from Kimball with The Daily Beast, as well as records of email exchanges with lawyers and patient advocates from the rape treatment centre. She did not return calls or respond to messages seeking further comment.
Kimball, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff's department, was assigned to the Special Victims Bureau in 2013, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The bureau has been involved in high-profile cases, including accusations by a young actor that he was sexually abused by Asia Argento, a leading figure in the #MeToo movement, who had herself accused the producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. She denied the allegations.
In 2009, Kimball was investigated for sexual battery but not charged after an episode at a hotel the previous year, The Los Angeles Times reported.
According to the report, which was based on a prosecutor's memo, the detective had questioned a group of friends in a parking lot.
Afterward, women in the group and Kimball went to a hotel room, where some of the women stripped down to their underwear and got into a hot tub as he encouraged them, the memo stated.
It also said that one woman accused the detective of grabbing her hand and trying to place it on his genitals.
But no charges were filed. Witnesses gave contradictory statements, there was a lack of evidence and the complainant failed to cooperate with investigators, the memo said.
Greg Risling, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County district attorney, confirmed that the office had declined to prosecute Kimball over the hotel incident. In an email, he said that no other cases involving the detective were under review.
The Ventura County District Attorney's Office had also urged any additional victims to come forward, Ms Koenig said, but none did so.
Asked last year why Kimball was selected to serve in the Special Victims Bureau even after the 2008 hotel allegations, the sheriff's department told The Los Angeles Times it would “conduct a review of the internal process” related to the assignment.
The department did not respond to a question about the outcome of that review.
Grier Weeks, senior executive at the National Association to Protect Children, a non-profit in Knoxville, Tennessee, that pushes for child protection laws, said that the sentence was too light considering the severity of the crime.
“There should be more severe penalties for people in positions of authority or trust who assault a child,” he said. “It's something that has to be treated as the most serious type of assault.
East Asia Pacific
Physical, Sexual Violence Against Children Surging in Indonesia
by Amanda Siddharta
JAKARTA - In 2019, Indonesians saw a surging number of cases of violence involving children.
In April, a 14-year-old girl was bullied and physically assaulted by three high school students in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Her case created an uproar on social media.
On July 13, a 16-year-old student at a military school in Palembang, South Sumatra, was a victim of hazing during orientation week. He died in a hospital days later.
At the end of July, the police in Aceh, Indonesia's most conservative province, arrested two men who worked at an Islamic school. They allegedly sexually abused 15 students between the ages of 13 and 14, according to two students who came forward and further investigation by authorities.
In 2019, nearly 1,200 reports so far
Rita Pranawati, the deputy chairwoman of the National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI), said those are only some of the cases of violence against children that were exposed and reported by the media. From January to May 2019, Pranawati said the commission received 1,192 reports of violence, including physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
“There are still many unreported cases, for example, the figure of child marriage is not included. That's also a form of abuse against children,” she told VOA in her Jakarta office last week. “Or other things, such as parents physically abusing their children, only when there's a death or the child is severely injured then it will be reported.”
Sexual violence cases rising
Indonesia's Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) receives a growing number of requests to protect victims of child sexual abuse. As of June, the agency was reviewing 78 cases. Edwin Partogi Pasaribu, the deputy chairman of LPSK, said the agency deals with at least four cases every week.
“From our point of view, based on the requests that we received, sexual violence is something that becomes a real concern for us. The figure from 2016 to 2019 continued to increase,” he said at a press conference in Jakarta.
According to the data from LPSK, in 2017 there were 70 victims of child sexual abuse, and in 2018 the number rose to 149.
Achmadi, also a deputy chairman of the LPSK, said 80% of those cases were committed by the victim's close relatives and 20% by strangers.
“Perpetrators of sexual violence are usually people known by the victims,” he added.
Nevertheless, there is still a harmful social stigma surrounding victims of sexual violence, said Pranawati of the child protection commission. She said victim-blaming is still common, especially when the victims are older teenagers.
“In cases of sexual abuse, sometimes the family or school prefer not to come forward because they are ashamed,” she said.
Pranawati says Indonesia has regulations, written in the law on child protection, in cases of violence against minors.
“The law is quite comprehensive, and we also have social norms. But of course there are challenges,” she said.
One of the challenges is to persuade community members to report abuse against children and to create a safe environment for victims. Pranawati said law enforcement agencies need more staff trained to handle cases involving children.
KPAI has been encouraging schools to adopt a “child-friendly” school scheme that includes making staff and management more aware of the need for child protection and better trained to cope with problems. The commission also encourages school leaders to craft a culture that offers a more equal relationship between students and teachers.
“This is important, to build a climate that is child friendly in schools. The government is currently discussing the presidential decree on this, but it hasn't been finalized,” Pranawati said. She added children should be taught the concept of consent and how to be assertive.
Pribudiarta Nur Sitepu, the secretary for the minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, said ending violence against children is one of their top priorities.
“This is our concern, because it's human rights,” he said at a recent press conference.
Indian MP Derek O'Brien recounts child sex abuse trauma
by Geeta Pandey
An Indian MP who spoke in parliament about how he was sexually molested as a child has forced into the spotlight a topic that is still widely considered taboo.
Derek O'Brien of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) party recounted the incident in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, on Wednesday while participating in a debate to amend the Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) law.
Mr O'Brien, who is 58 years old, said the incident took place when he was 13.
He said it happened when he had boarded a "crowded bus" in Kolkata after tennis practice and that he was "wearing short pants and T-shirt".
He recalled: "I was sexually molested. Someone ejaculated on my shorts. I don't know who."
The MP said he didn't speak to anyone about it for "six, seven years" before finally telling his parents.
Indian laws protect the identity of victims of child sexual abuse, but there have been instances where survivors have waived the right to anonymity and spoken about their trauma in public.
Mr O'Brien, however, is perhaps the first Indian MP to speak publicly about his personal trauma, and he is certainly the first to do so within parliament and while its proceedings were being shown live on national TV.
The MP has been praised for his "courage" on social media and his comments have made national headlines. They have also firmly brought into focus the huge problem that child sexual abuse is in India.
According to the only Indian government study on the topic done in 2007, 53% of children surveyed said they had been subjected to some form of sexual abuse.
The government crime figures year after year show tens of thousands of reported cases - according to the latest figures available, for 2016, a child was abused every 15 minutes.
Campaigners say the actual numbers are even higher, as the stigma that surrounds sexual crimes means many cases don't even get reported.
In 2012, India introduced Pocso and on Wednesday, the upper house passed the amended bill which offers stricter punishments, including the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children.
Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said the government would also be setting up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the backlog of 166,000 pending Pocso cases. The bill needs to go through the lower house to become law.
The MPs who participated in Wednesday's debate in the Rajya Sabha mostly talked about punishment - they said the death penalty would act as a deterrent and go a long way in curbing such crimes, and one even suggested chemical castration for those found guilty.
But, as Mr O'Brien pointed out, focusing on punishment alone is like missing the wood for the trees.
"All my colleagues have spoken about punishment, but it's not about punishment. The courts will do their job of punishment, but how do we prevent this from happening?" he asked.
The biggest hurdle in the fight against child sex abuse in India, say campaigners, is the secrecy that surrounds the issue.
Children rarely report abuse and there are a number of reasons why - sometimes they don't understand what's happening to them, or they keep quiet because they are either ashamed or think they themselves are at fault. When they do report it, there's mostly disbelief, denial and cover up. It's worse in cases of incestuous abuse.
Although Mr O'Brien's abuser was a stranger, statistics show that most are "persons in trust and caregivers", including parents, relatives and school teachers.
"It's very clear where the abuse starts, it starts at home - mine, yours and everyone else's," the MP said, urging people to "speak up".
He added: "I urge people, especially those in public life, celebrities like cricketers, actors and actresses and MPs to speak up. The more we talk, the more children would be saved."
It would be a good start, for the first step to solving any problem begins with acknowledging it.
Delhi-based Our Voix aims to create awareness on sexual abuse and give children a voice
Youth-led organisation Our Voix is working towards preventing child sexual abuse by sensitising children, teachers, and parents. It has reached out to 50 schools and colleges and 10 NGOs across four cities till now, and aims to step up its efforts this year.
In India, a child is sexually abused or raped every few minutes, according to a report by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The report also indicates that an astounding 1,06,958 cases of crime were recorded against children in the country. Of these, 36,022 cases were related to sexual violence.
At an age when children are unable to differentiate between good and bad touch, creating awareness on issues like sexual abuse and exploitation is imperative.
Striving to make an impact is Delhi-based Our Voix, which is a youth-led organisation. Founded by 25-year-old Megha Bhatia in 2018, Our Voix conducts free workshops and events to sensitise teachers, parents, and children about child sexual abuse.
“We live in a world where stereotypes, taboos, and stigmas with regard to child sexual abuse occupy centre stage. Neither do people try to uncover trapped voices behind all the distress and ill treatment, nor do they provide adequate support to overcome it. Our Voix is on a mission to break this practice. Since its inception, the organisation has reached out to over 14,000 children by holding 500 workshops across schools in Hyderabad, Odisha, Delhi, and Jaipur,” Megha Bhatia, Founder, Our Voix, tells YourStory.
After completing her bachelor of law degree from Amity Law School in Noida, Megha Bhatia went on to pursue a master's degree in human rights at University College of London (UCL). Here, she was introduced to the nitty gritties of child sexual abuse when she took up a research project.
“Through the length and breadth of the assignment, I realised the gravity of sexual exploitation cases. The act of coercing or forcing a child to indulge in any form of sexual activity has long-lasting effects. It can cause deep psychological impacts and regressive behaviours. Since then, I always had a deep desire to work in this space. When I got back to India, I finally saw an opportunity to set up an organisation focused on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse,” Megha recollects.
Presently, Our Voix has a volunteer base of over 200 people including lawyers, psychologists, and management consultants from across the globe, including London, the US, and India. The organisation has also accumulated funds to the tune of Rs 3 lakh from crowdfunding sources and private individuals to drive its initiatives.
One of the main reasons for the occurrence of sexual misconduct is lack of awareness. The stigma associated with sex education in India is so deep that parents and teachers hesitate to talk to children about sexual advances and threats. Our Voix aims to break this convention by offering free workshops for not only children, but also teachers and parents.
“We started by holding preventive programmes on child sexual abuse for children in Class 1 to 6 in schools and welfare homes. All the knowledge imparted as part of this is based on the POWER module – power to say no, power to judge between a good and bad touch, power to trust, power over body parts, and power to raise a voice. Besides, all the volunteers who are given charge to train children are prepped to deliver content that is culturally appropriate, age specific, and child friendly,” explains Megha.
Most of these sessions last for 25 minutes, and involve activity-based learning methods. For instance, the concept of good and bad touch is introduced through performing arts like dance, theatre, and storytelling.
Our Voix also conducts two-hour awareness sessions for parents and teachers covering aspects like reporting cases of misconduct, handling disclosure, protecting children from incest, and the legal rights and provisions associated with child sexual abuse.
“One of the biggest challenges that we encountered was to obtain requisite permission from schools and corporates to conduct workshops. Many of them refused the offer because of their mental block to openly communicate about a topic like sexual violence. However, of late, we are able to see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Megha says.
Our Voix has conducted workshops in several schools and colleges across India, including Bal Bharati Public School, North Delhi Municipal Corporation, Springdales School, and Maharishi University of Information Technology. The organisation has also worked with children and caretakers in NGOs such as Aashman Foundation, Lakshyam, Pehchaan, and Rainbow Foundation.
A vast majority of children today do not know how to describe or talk about sexual abuse. They never open up, thinking it might have been their fault. The organisation believes that one of the best ways to drive away this kind of ignorance is through campaigns.
The team did just that by putting together programmes like stage plays, music performances, and unique events such as the Global Bubble Parade in Delhi aimed to help people raise their voice against sexual violence and the #ISTANDFORBACHPAN social media drive to spread the message among youth.
In the last one year, Our Voix has reached out to 50 schools and colleges and 10 NGOs across four cities in India.
“We, as teachers, used to hesitate to talk about sexual misconduct with children earlier. However, after Our Voix conducted a workshop in our school, things became easier. Not only did the students gain awareness, but many of them also came forward to openly report incidents of abuse in their homes as well as outside. I think these kind of sessions need to be held at all schools across the country,” says Anju, a teacher at Government Secondary School in Delhi.
Our Voix's effort in terms of both preventing child sexual abuse and lending a voice to the ones already affected is all set to grow stronger.
“We are planning to get in touch with children, parents, and teachers across 400 schools in the next one year. Besides, the team is working on spreading the word through webinars and online workshops. In order to engage children in a creative manner, Our Voix is also going to release comic books touching upon child sexual abuse in 2019,” Megha says.
Polish abuse scandal: Victims take on the Catholic Church
by Adam Easton
Marek Mielewczyk was a 13-year-old altar boy when a priest asked him to come to his presbytery.
"This is where I was abused for the first time," he says.
He is one of several victims, now adults, featured in a documentary about Polish priests who sexually abused children.
Tomasz and Marek Sekielski's film, Don't Tell Anyone , was watched 20 million times in the first week of its digital release – and prompted an unprecedented challenge to Poland's Roman Catholic Church.
More than 90% of Poles identity themselves as Catholics. For many, the Church and its rituals do not just provide spiritual comfort: they are part of a national identity.
That might explain why Poles have been slow to question the behaviour of some of their own priests, despite sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the USA and neighbouring Germany.
Monika, 28, did not appear in the film. But she told the BBC about years of abuse during supposed exorcisms by priests around Poland when she was a teenager.
Her parents saw the priests "as heroes, people who were fighting against the devil himself" - but she believes they were manipulated.
You may find some of the details in this story upsetting.
The Catholic Church defended Polish culture, language and identity as the country was ruled by three occupying empires in the 19th Century.
After World War Two, the Church – and Polish Pope John Paul II – gave strength to the democratic Solidarity movement, helping it overthrow communist rule.
But the documentary has sullied that reputation.
Shortly after the film's release, an opinion poll suggested 67% of Poles regarded the Church's response as inadequate and 87% said its authority had been diminished.
How Marek challenged the Church
Marek Mielewczyk was abused for five years.
"I didn't know about things like masturbation and touching. I had no idea about homosexual relations. I didn't know that an adult could abuse a child," says Mr Mielewczyk.
"He told me not to tell anyone, not to talk about it at school, and that's what happened."
The abuse continued until one Christmas Eve when he was 18, and he tried to kill himself by taking pills. His parents only discovered what had happened to him after he told a doctor why he had been suicidal.
When the doctor informed the local bishop about the case, he wrote back saying he was aware of the abuse.
Marek, now 50, has identified his abuser as Fr Andrzej Srebrzynski, and the documentary says the priest was subsequently moved from parish to parish for the next 28 years.
He was only removed from the priesthood in 2015. Even then, he was filmed taking part in a religious procession wearing his priestly vestments.
Fr Srebrzynski denies abusing Marek, arguing that it was another priest who molested him. A judge in 2017 ordered him to apologise to his victim, and he is appealing against the ruling.
How damaging for Church?
"There are no words to express our shame," Polish bishops said in a statement issued in the days following the documentary's release - acknowledging they had not done enough to prevent abuse.
Adam Szostkiewicz, a columnist for Polityka weekly, believes there is now a readiness for people to make the bishops responsible for their silence.
"This process will take time, but for me, it's a point of no return for the Church," he said.
"But for some Poles, if they lose the Church, it's like they lose a part of themselves. They prefer to close their eyes," he added.
"They see the Church as their mother, and you cannot say bad things about your mother."
As a teenager growing up in a small town outside Warsaw, Monika – not her real name – was fascinated with black clothes, heavy music and drawing vampires.
Now an art student, she says her years of abuse began when a priest convinced her parents that she was possessed by an evil spirit, and began performing exorcism rites on her.
Soon, she was being taken around the country for so-called treatments by other priests.
On one occasion, she said she was taken to a tiny basement room where there was a bed with leather straps.
"This priest strapped me to the bed and literally tortured me. He had lay people helping him, and this priest would shove a crucifix down my throat until I started to bleed," she told the BBC.
"He started drowning me on this bed. He would pinch my nose closed and pour water down my throat. Nobody reacted or tried to stop him."
Another priest she describes as a sadist. "He would strangle me and pin me down by lying on top of me. I could feel he was sexually aroused."
She says he would tie her to a church pew or a radiator for so long that she wet herself.
While staying with one of the priests she would sleep in his bed. "He would drink alcohol. He also did things; he was a man with a teenage girl in his bed," she said.
Monika only managed to escape with the help of her friends after they learned of her suffering.
She has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder. She has sought support through the Nie Lekajcie Sie (Have No Fear) foundation which helps abuse victims.
She started legal action but prosecutors dropped her case after a court-appointed psychologist, whom the foundation says has close links to the Catholic Church, suspected she was lying.
The foundation sought another psychologist's opinion, who found her story credible, and Monika is appealing against the prosecutor's decision.
How is Poland responding?
The Have No Fear foundation is drafting a citizens' bill to enable victims to file historical claims against priests and to allow for the creation of an independent truth and compensation commission, modelled on those set up in Ireland, Germany and Australia.
Poland's conservative Law and Justice government is creating a commission, but with members appointed by politicians rather than experts. The party enjoys the support of many priests for its backing of Catholic values.
The government commission will investigate professions such as child-care and teaching as well as the Church.
Marek Mielewczyk, who is now a grandfather, realises the fight for justice will take time, but he's happy it has at least begun.
After watching the documentary, his eldest daughter texted him "Daddy, I love you".
"It was very moving for me. All those years of hard work had been worth it," he said.
Child Sex Trafficking
FBI: Sex with Children is the Fastest Growing Illegal Business in America
“Children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day.” — John Ryan, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Children, young girls — some as young as 9 years old — are being bought and sold for sex in America. The average age for a young woman being sold for sex is now 13 years old.
This is America's dirty little secret.
Sex trafficking — especially when it comes to the buying and selling of young girls — has become big business in America, the fastest growing business in organized crime and the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns.
As investigative journalist Amy Fine Collins notes, “It's become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day — and a ‘righteous' pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.”
Consider this: every two minutes, a child is exploited in the sex industry.
According to USA Today, adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.
Who buys a child for sex? Otherwise ordinary men from all walks of life.
“They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse,” writes journalist Tim Swarens, who spent more than a year investigating the sex trade in America.
In Georgia alone, it is estimated that 7,200 men (half of them in their 30s) seek to purchase sex with adolescent girls each month, averaging roughly 300 a day.
On average, a child might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.
It is estimated that at least 100,000 children — girls and boys — are bought and sold for sex in the U.S. every year, with as many as 300,000 children in danger of being trafficked each year. Some of these children are forcefully abducted, others are runaways, and still others are sold into the system by relatives and acquaintances.
“Human trafficking — the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution — is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.,” said prosecutor Krishna Patel.
This is an industry that revolves around cheap sex on the fly, with young girls and women who are sold to 50 men each day for $25 apiece, while their handlers make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year.
This is not a problem found only in big cities.
It's happening everywhere, right under our noses, in suburbs, cities and towns across the nation.
As Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children points out, “The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it.”
Don't fool yourselves into believing that this is merely a concern for lower income communities or immigrants.
It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged child sex workers in the U.S. These girls aren't volunteering to be sex slaves. They're being lured — forced — trafficked into it. In most cases, they have no choice.
In order to avoid detection (in some cases aided and abetted by the police) and cater to male buyers' demand for sex with different women, pimps and the gangs and crime syndicates they work for have turned sex trafficking into a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked girls, boys and women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country.
For instance, the Baltimore-Washington area, referred to as The Circuit, with its I-95 corridor dotted with rest stops, bus stations and truck stops, is a hub for the sex trade.
No doubt about it: this is a highly profitable, highly organized and highly sophisticated sex trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.
Every year, the girls being bought and sold gets younger and younger.
The average age of those being trafficked is 13. Yet as the head of a group that combats trafficking pointed out, “Let's think about what average means. That means there are children younger than 13. That means 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds.”
“For every 10 women rescued, there are 50 to 100 more women who are brought in by the traffickers. Unfortunately, they're not 18- or 20-year-olds anymore,” noted a 25-year-old victim of trafficking. “ They're minors as young as 13 who are being trafficked. They're little girls.”
Where did this appetite for young girls come from?
Look around you.
Young girls have been sexualized for years now in music videos, on billboards, in television ads, and in clothing stores. Marketers have created a demand for young flesh and a ready supply of over-sexualized children.
“All it takes is one look at MySpace photos of teens to see examples — if they aren't imitating porn they've actually seen, they're imitating the porn-inspired images and poses they've absorbed elsewhere,” writes Jessica Bennett for Newsweek.
“Latex, corsets and stripper heels, once the fashion of porn stars, have made their way into middle and high school.”
This is what Bennett refers to as the “pornification of a generation.”
“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn't take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives ,” concludes Bennett.
“Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms. According to a 2007 study from the University of Alberta, as many as 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls aged 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.”
In other words, the culture is grooming these young people to be preyed upon by sexual predators. And then we wonder why our young women are being preyed on, trafficked and abused?
Social media makes it all too easy. As one news center reported, “Finding girls is easy for pimps. They look on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networks. They and their assistants cruise malls, high schools and middle schools. They pick them up at bus stops. On the trolley. Girl-to-girl recruitment sometimes happens.”
Foster homes and youth shelters have also become prime targets for traffickers.
Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. Many start out as runaways or throwaways, only to be snatched up by pimps or larger sex rings.
Others, persuaded to meet up with a stranger after interacting online through one of the many social networking sites, find themselves quickly initiated into their new lives as sex slaves.
Debbie, a straight-A student who belonged to a close-knit Air Force family living in Phoenix, Ariz., is an example of this trading of flesh.
Debbie was 15 when she was snatched from her driveway by an acquaintance-friend. Forced into a car, Debbie was bound and taken to an unknown location, held at gunpoint and raped by multiple men. She was then crammed into a small dog kennel and forced to eat dog biscuits.
Debbie's captors advertised her services on Craigslist. Those who responded were often married with children, and the money that Debbie “earned” for sex was given to her kidnappers.
The gang raping continued.
After searching the apartment where Debbie was held captive, police finally found Debbie stuffed in a drawer under a bed. Her harrowing ordeal lasted for 40 days.
While Debbie was fortunate enough to be rescued, others are not so lucky. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children go missing every year (roughly 2,185 children a day).
With a growing demand for sexual slavery and an endless supply of girls and women who can be targeted for abduction, this is not a problem that's going away anytime soon.
For those trafficked, it's a nightmare from beginning to end.
Those being sold for sex have an average life expectancy of seven years, and those years are a living nightmare of endless rape, forced drugging, humiliation, degradation, threats, disease, pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, torture, pain, and always the constant fear of being killed or, worse, having those you love hurt or killed.
Peter Landesman paints the full horrors of life for those victims of the sex trade in his New York Times article “The Girls Next Door:
Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to have sex with adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist patient or the obedient daughter.
Her cell of sex traffickers offered three age ranges of sex partners -- toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens -- as well as what she called a “damage group.”
“In the damage group, they can hit you or do anything they want to,” she explained. “Though sex always hurts when you are little, so it's always violent, everything was much more painful once you were placed in the damage group.”
What Andrea described next shows just how depraved some portions of American society have become.
“They'd get you hungry then train you” to have oral sex. “They put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better. We learned responses. Like if they wanted us to be sultry or sexy or scared. Most of them wanted you scared. When I got older, I'd teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn't hurt.”
Immigration and customs enforcement agents at the Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., report that when it comes to sex, the appetites of many Americans have now changed. What was once considered abnormal is now the norm.
These agents are tracking a clear spike in the demand for harder-core pornography on the Internet.
As one agent noted, “We've become desensitized by the soft stuff; now we need a harder and harder hit.”
This trend is reflected by the treatment many of the girls receive at the hands of the drug traffickers and the men who purchase them. Peter Landesman interviewed Rosario, a Mexican woman who had been trafficked to New York and held captive for a number of years.
She said: “In America, we had ‘special jobs.' Oral sex, anal sex, often with many men. Sex is now more adventurous, harder.”
A common thread woven through most survivors' experiences is being forced to go without sleep or food until they have met their sex quota of at least 40 men. One woman recounts how her trafficker made her lie face down on the floor when she was pregnant and then literally jumped on her back, forcing her to miscarry.
Holly Austin Smith was abducted when she was 14 years old, raped, and then forced to prostitute herself. Her pimp, when brought to trial, was only made to serve a year in prison.
Barbara Amaya was repeatedly sold between traffickers, abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, and jailed all before she was 18 years old.
“I had a quota that I was supposed to fill every night. And if I didn't have that amount of money, I would get beat, thrown down the stairs. He beat me once with wire coat hangers, the kind you hang up clothes, he straightened it out and my whole back was bleeding.”
As David McSwane recounts in a chilling piece for the Herald-Tribune:
“In Oakland Park, an industrial Fort Lauderdale suburb, federal agents in 2011 encountered a brothel operated by a married couple. Inside ‘The Boom Boom Room,' as it was known, customers paid a fee and were given a condom and a timer and left alone with one of the brothel's eight teenagers, children as young as 13.
“A 16-year-old foster child testified that he acted as security, while a 17-year-old girl told a federal judge she was forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a night.”
One particular sex trafficking ring catered specifically to migrant workers employed seasonally on farms throughout the southeastern states, especially the Carolinas and Georgia, although it's a flourishing business in every state in the country.
Traffickers transport the women from farm to farm, where migrant workers would line up outside shacks, as many as 30 at a time, to have sex with them before they were transported to yet another farm where the process would begin all over again.
This growing evil is, for all intents and purposes, out in the open.
Trafficked women and children are advertised on the internet, transported on the interstate, and bought and sold in swanky hotels.
Indeed, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government's war on sex trafficking — much like the government's war on terrorism, drugs and crime — has become a perfect excuse for inflicting more police state tactics (police check points, searches, surveillance, and heightened security) on a vulnerable public, while doing little to make our communities safer.
So what can you do?
Educate yourselves and your children about this growing menace in our communities.
Stop feeding the monster: Sex trafficking is part of a larger continuum in America that runs the gamut from homelessness, poverty, and self-esteem issues to sexualized television, the glorification of a pimp/ho culture — what is often referred to as the pornification of America — and a billion dollar sex industry built on the back of pornography, music, entertainment, etc.
This epidemic is largely one of our own making, especially in a corporate age where the value placed on human life takes a backseat to profit. It is estimated that the porn industry brings in more money than Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.
Call on your city councils, elected officials and police departments to make the battle against sex trafficking a top priority, more so even than the so-called war on terror and drugs and the militarization of law enforcement.
Stop prosecuting adults for victimless “crimes” such as growing lettuce in their front yard and focus on putting away the pimps and buyers who victimize these young women.
Finally, the police need to do a better job of training, identifying and responding to these issues; communities and social services need to do a better job of protecting runaways, who are the primary targets of traffickers; legislators need to pass legislation aimed at prosecuting traffickers and “johns,” the buyers who drive the demand for sex slaves; and hotels need to stop enabling these traffickers, by providing them with rooms and cover for their dirty deeds.
That so many women and children continue to be victimized, brutalized and treated like human cargo is due to three things: one, a consumer demand that is increasingly lucrative for everyone involved — except the victims; two, a level of corruption so invasive on both a local and international scale that there is little hope of working through established channels for change; and three, an eerie silence from individuals who fail to speak out against such atrocities.
But the truth is that we are all guilty of contributing to this human suffering.
The traffickers are guilty.
The consumers are guilty.
The corrupt law enforcement officials are guilty.
The women's groups who do nothing are guilty.
The foreign peacekeepers and aid workers who contribute to the demand for sex slaves are guilty.
Most of all, every individual who does not raise a hue and cry over the atrocities being committed against women and children in almost every nation around the globe — including the United States — is guilty.