Hillsong founder Brian Houston refused to answer questions over father's child abuse, police told MPs
Parliamentary documents show NSW police were advised they lacked evidence to proceed with inquiry after Houston's refusal
By Josh Taylor
Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong church, refused to be interviewed by New South Wales police about his father's child abuse confessions, shortly after which an investigation was nearly abandoned due to a lack of sufficient evidence, parliamentary documents reveal.
NSW police confirmed last month the investigation was still open, following reporting from the Wall Street Journal that prime minister Scott Morrison had wanted Houston to attend a state dinner at the White House but the Trump administration rejected the proposal.
Houston's father Frank confessed in late 1999 to his son that he had committed child abuse after a victim, Brett Sengstock, reported the abuse which occurred in the 60s and 70s to the Australian Christian Churches. At the time Brian Houston was the national president.
Sengstock is one of seven of Frank Houston's reported victims, with the majority in New Zealand. He gave evidence to the royal commission in 2014 under the pseudonym AHA, but has since given media interviews without anonymity.
The royal commission found Frank Houston was allowed to resign his position in the church and was given a retirement package up until his death in 2004.
Brian Houston has defended not reporting his father's confession to police, stating he had a “reasonable excuse” because he said Sengstock had said he did not want to go to the authorities. He also said that because Sengstock was an adult when the abuse was first reported, it was his prerogative to report it. Sengstock has denied telling Houston not to go to the police.
NSW police received a referral to investigate the failure to report Frank Houston's confession after the royal commission's findings were released in 2015, but no charges have yet eventuated from the investigation.
In a 2GB interview last week, Houston insisted the investigation was only open because charges had not yet been laid, and it would continue to remain open.
But NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller told a state parliament estimates committee in November last year investigators were “following a number of lines of inquiry” into the actions taken when dealing with the allegations against Frank Houston.
In a written response to questions on notice, Fuller said the investigation had stalled in late 2016 not long after Brian Houston declined to be interviewed in July that year.
“In July 2016 Mr. Brian Houston declined to be interviewed or assist police with the investigation. In November 2016 legal advice was received regarding a lack of sufficient evidence to proceed,” Fuller said.
But NSW police launched a review of its original investigation in October 2018 and were trying to resolve legal issues around sufficiency and admissibility of evidence.
“However, the [NSW police force] is currently taking steps to resolve these issues, including obtaining fresh legal advice and following a number of lines of inquiry into this investigation.
“Police are maintaining contact with the victim.”
Brian Houston says he 'genuinely doesn't know' if PM wanted him at White House dinner.
NSW police declined to comment beyond the existing statement being provided to media that the investigation remains ongoing, but it is understood the situation regarding any interview has not changed since Fuller's statement in November 2018.
The Guardian has sought comment from Houston via Hillsong.
Morrison appeared on stage with Brian Houston at Hillsong in July this year, and has refused to answer any questions on whether he sought to bring the Hillsong leader to the United States for his visit.
Officials at Senate estimates last week took questions on notice on the matter, stating releasing the information could potentially damage international relations with the US.
Outrage after men found guilty of sexual abuse not rape as victim was ‘unconscious'
Spanish writer condemns sentence as ‘the height of judicial indecency'
By Zamira Rahim
Five men accused of gang raping a 14-year-old girl have been acquitted of sexual assault because the victim was in an “unconscious state”.
The men were instead found guilty of sexually abusing the child during a drinking session, known in Spanish as a botellon, at an abandoned factory in the town of Manresa.
The Barcelona High Court's ruling has triggered fury in Spain.
Sexual assault under Spanish law is the equivalent of rape and carries a prison sentence of between 15 and 20 years. Sexual abuse is considered a lesser crime.
Prosecutors told the court that six men took turns to abuse the child on 29 October 2016.
The court heard the girl was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time.
One of the group, named in court as Bryan Andres, is said to have said to each of the men: “It's your turn. Fifteen minutes each and no delay.”
The public prosecutor had called for the defendants to be charged with sexual assault.
But on Thursday, the court ruled that the men did not commit sexual assault, according to El Pais.
The court said the crimes did not amount to the more serious charge as the victim was in “an unconscious state”,
It added that the child “did not know what she was and wasn't doing, and consequently, did not have the ability to agree to or oppose the sexual relations most of the defendants had with her.”
The court also ruled that the more serious crime was not committed as the defendants “were able to commit sexual acts without using any type of violence or intimidation”.
Violence and intimidation are required for the crime of sexual assault under Spanish law.
All six men were acquitted of sexual assault.
Instead the five men were convicted of sexual abuse of a minor. Two of the five were also convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a minor.
Each received a 10 to 12 year prison sentence.
Two more men, who attended the party at which the abuse took place, were acquitted of all crimes.
The victim previously told the court that one of the men had a gun and that she had very little memory of what occurred.
The schoolgirl, now aged 17, wept throughout her testimony in July 2019, as she said she could only recall flashes of the encounter.
“It hurt, I don't remember any more,” she said of one abusive encounter.
“In another flash, I am crying and someone with glasses is on top of me,” she told the court.
She said a friend later told her that “the six men had penetrated me and I was crying.”
A female witness told the court that when she went into the room, the men, aged 18 to 21, were standing around without trousers on.
Senior politicians have condemned the verdict.
“Another outrageous sentence,” said Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona.
“[The judge] doesn't want to understand that only YES is YES,” she said on Twitter.
“An unconscious 14-year-girl was raped in a group. I am not a judge and I do not know how many years in prisons they deserve, what I do know is that it is not abuse, it rape!”
Eva Piquer, a Spanish writer, described the verdict as “the height of judicial indecency”.
The victim was awarded 12,000 euros (£10,300) in damages.
The court ruled “the attack on the victim's sexual integrity was extremely severe and especially denigrating and what's more, was against a minor in a situation of distress.”
People in Spain have dubbed the abusers the “wolf pack of Manresa” due to the case's similarity with the La Manada “wolf pack” rape trial.
The La Manada case, centered on a 2016 gang attack on a teenager, led to nationwide protests and an ongoing review of the country's rape laws.
Sexual abuse: In Pakistan, like the rest of the world, not many listen, not many care
Award-winning Pakistani filmmaker Jami said he was raped more than a decade ago
By Mehr Tarar
It had to happen. For something untoward to happen in perpetuity, and that too without any fear of accountability, is an expectation with an expiration date. The very act of hiding of an act that is fundamentally wrong is like a forgotten landmine set in a field covered in hard earth and moss. The mere fact of its invisibility is not a proof its non-existence. Silence does not erase an act that causes pain. It merely puts on hold the inevitability of that silence snowballing into a scream that pierces the most apathetic resistance.
One person's story of pain, told on a virtual public platform, becomes the cue for a few more persons to seek the forgotten courage within them to speak up. More voices join the discourse. It doesn't stop. It won't stop. It can't stop. That is the thing about pain. Intensified, it refuses to remain invisible. Very soon, the thousands become millions, and their stories become a singular story: it happened to me too.
It is not a mere hashtag, this two-word global declaration, #MeToo. It is not a social media trend. It is not a viral story with a few-day shelf life. Me Too is the story of countless females, of all ages, teenagers, and even men, who went through hell, and for one reason or the other, chose to remain silent. Some of them were forced to remain silent. Some of them spoke up without being believed. Some of them were believed but shamed. Some of them were sympathized with but were asked to remain silent for their ‘honor', or that of who they were connected with–through blood, marriage, relationship, friendship, work. Some didn't even know what to say. Some pretended as if nothing had happened.
Me Too acted as collective therapy. The silence was broken. You are not alone. What happened to you happened to me too. Your silence is not your shame, it never was. Your silence was your shield against the enormity of the forceful elimination of your right to say no. The universality of Me Too united millions of those who had suffered alone. Me Too became the friend who didn't judge, the silent hand-holding that erased a bit of the pain, the hug that comforted.
Amidst countless true stories of harassment, abuse, rape and violence, there were some false accusations, a few attention-seeking episodes of convoluting of truth, and fabrications for revenge. The false stories of a few in every country, despite having a short-lived damaging effect, do not affect the validity of the Me Too punch that landed with a global crunch into the smug, sniggering, haughty faces of those who reveled in their invincibility.
In May 2019, the Lahore High Court dismissed the petition of wrongful termination and expulsion of Asif Saleem, an assistant professor and a Ph.D. student at the University of Lahore. “On the complaint of a female student, an inquiry was initiated, and after Saleem was found guilty he was dismissed from service under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012. He was also expelled from the university's PhD program. He filed an appeal before the ombudsperson against his removal but it was dismissed. The Punjab governor also rejected his appeal.”
No one seems to care what happens to Saleem. In a world full of men who do unimaginably bad things to women there are those who even when innocent pay a price for being a man. Is Saleem one of those men? No one knows. No one cares.
On October 20, 2019, Pakistan was shocked at the news of the suicide of a professor of the MAO College, Lahore. Afzal Mehmood was falsely accused of sexual harassment of a student. Mehmood killed himself. He left a note: “I leave this matter in the court of Allah. The police are requested not to investigate and bother anyone.”
Reportedly, “Professor Afzal Mehmood, took his life after his wife separated from him, and the college administration refused to issue a clearance certificate to him even after harassment allegations were proven false.”
Powerful names involved
When Rose McGowan posted a series of tweets on October 13, 2017, accusing one of the biggest Hollywood moguls, Harvey Weinstein, of raping her in 1997, and making her sign an NDA, no one could have predicted the significance of her disclosure. McGowan addressing Amazon's Jeff Bezos tweeted: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn't been proven. I said I was the proof.”
Rose McGowan changed the face of the Me Too movement started in 2006 by the New York based civil rights activist, Tarana Burke. McGowan's tweets opened a floodgate. The discourse on abuse of women shifted with an urgent imperativeness that left little room for doubt and blame-shifting. Much changed.
Kevin Spacey, one of Hollywood's biggest names, multiple Academy Award nominated actor, was accused of sexual harassment, sexual advances on minors, and sexual assault. Spacey denied any sexual inappropriateness, but apologized “for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Spacey's illustrious career folded faster than he could say he “choose[s] now to live as a gay man.”
Two very powerful men, and their many stories of inappropriate behavior, crossing of line, sexual assault, even rape, use of their status to elicit silence in their victims, covering up by those who knew but decided not to speak up, and getting away with criminal behavior for years in a world that holds sexual abuse as something inconsequential and silence as a virtue. Many more very famous men were accused.
Sexual abuse happens to many, it happens everywhere. In Pakistan, it is what is not to be talked about. Ever.
It starts at home. Children are taught not to speak about certain things. Children are made to believe that certain things didn't happen. Children are trained to be brave but silent. The honor of the family is connected to many things but most simplistically to the body of the female. A daughter is loved and pampered. A daughter is also made the sign of the family's honor. In words, subliminally, through conditioning, in acts of coercion, in wordless expectancy, a female learns the ‘virtue' of silence. Home is the place where a victim first learns the meaning of ‘shame'. When sexually abused, she recoils into a comforting cocoon of ‘it was my fault', ‘I brought it on me', ‘my parents would be shamed if I talk about my pain', ‘what will people say', ‘my body must be protected for my family's honor'.
Imagine what a male child feels when sexually abused. Brought up on big words of boys-don't-cry and courage and resilience, male children, when sexually abused, sometimes grow up into disturbed young men who have issues of trust. Afraid, vulnerable, confused, a young boy after being sexually abused is unaware of even the option of reaching out to a trusted adult. The virtue of silence becomes part of his broken self that he hides so seamlessly most of his life his pain reduces into a nightmare that only he is aware of, haunting him like the image of a bent-neck lady all his life.
And when they speak no one listens.
On October 21, 2019, in an eerie déjà vu of McGowan's October 2017 tweets, a series of tweets appeared on Pakistan's twitter timelines. The award-winning Pakistani filmmaker, Jamshed Mehmood, popularly known as Jami, posted tweets about the horrific rape he was the victim of more than a decade ago.
Shocked, Pakistan's twitter and media erupted into a commentary that was expected. While many tweeted in support of Jami, many sniggered.
How could a strong, tall, then 34-year-old man be raped? Was he drugged? Was he drunk? Did it happen at gunpoint? Why was he silent for so long? Who is the ‘media giant' who raped him?
‘Never-ending': Child sexual abuse imagery numbers rising in NH
By Hadley Barndollar
The bedding sought by the search warrant, as seen in the videos and images, included a blue blanket with pink flowers — possibly roses — and a white pillowcase with a blue floral print.
The girl had been 8 years old, a student at a Seacoast elementary school. She was disabled. Her school's resource officer identified her in the images when a federal agent sought assistance.
The abuser — a family member — was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison, on two counts of producing child sexual abuse images, though evidence included a total of 27 videos and 11 images.
A victim impact statement, read by a family member at the sentencing in federal court, called the offender “a despicable animal” who chose to go down a road of “darkness, deceit and pure evil.”
In Kik group chats, the man had told other users the girl enjoyed his abuse.
The judge presiding over the case said the evidence showed the man had also admitted to the abuse of another young girl, while unknowingly conversing with an undercover FBI agent in the Kik chat. The defense lawyer argued his client, too, had been abused as a young boy.
According to a recent report by the New York Times, in 2018, tech companies reported more than 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused — more than double what they found the previous year.
In New Hampshire, that increase is 110% over the last 365 days.
Computer related offenses
But law enforcement and experts say the alarming increases could be attributed to the fact there is heightened awareness and more widespread detection of child sexual abuse images — rather than a rise in the transmission or manufacturing of them. In that case, they're catching more offenders, but the apprehension of one typically comes amidst the discovery of 10 others.
A recent paper published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stated the number of child sexual abuse images on the internet has “outpaced the capabilities of independent clearinghouse analysts and law enforcement to respond.” In 2017 alone, the agency received 9.6 million reports of child sexual abuse images, compared to roughly 10,000 reports per year when the agency started in 1998.
“It is never-ending,” said John Peracchi, commander of the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, commonly known as ICAC. “The number of investigations we've had, the number of arrests we've had, all increased by more than 100%. We have search warrants backed up, ready to go.”
Recent local cases mentioned by ICAC lead forensic examiner detective Duane Jacques of the Portsmouth Police Department include a 16-year-old in Portsmouth producing “hardcore, violent child pornography” for the 70-year-old solicitor. A recent search warrant executed in Exeter led to the arrest of a man on 18 total charges, including manufacturing of child sexual abuse images and sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl.
Last month, a Barrington man pleaded guilty in federal court to production of child sexual abuse imagery, where according to court documents, in 2018, he produced visual depictions of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct using a cellphone.
“I have open federal cases right now that would blow your mind,” Jacques said.
A 2018 study on the complex experience of child sexual abuse imagery survivors, conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, depicted for most of the 133 respondents, the images were part of long-term sexual abuse, often beginning when they were quite young. Fifty-two percent of respondents were victimized by family members.
One year, 425 investigations
New Hampshire was one of the original ICAC Task Force sites when a federal grant funded its formation in 1998. Today, there is a national network ?of 61 coordinated task forces representing more than 4,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
Peracchi, a lieutenant at the Portsmouth Police Department, took over as the New Hampshire commander a year ago. From July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, there were 425 investigations and 56 arrests, compared to 202 investigations and 27 arrests during the same time period from 2017 to 2018.
Over three years, the number of investigations in New Hampshire per year went from 157 to 425, a more than 250% increase.
The increases are across the board — in cyber tips and search warrants, too. At the ICAC headquarters in Manchester, located in the Homeland Security federal building, there are names of towns and cities written in dry erase marker own a white board — search warrants waiting to be executed.
iPhones, iPads and laptops blanket the counters of the ICAC tech lab, seized during search warrants that have already been executed around New Hampshire.
“We're getting about 60 cyber tips per month ad those can be anywhere in the state,” Peracchi said. “When we investigate those, they're leading us to at least one search warrant a week.”
The period of July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, saw 665 cyber tips, 190 search warrants, and 724 cellphones seized.
Per a 2008 federal law, any electronic service provider is mandated to report any child sexual abuse imagery it comes across to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The agency then triages the tip, determines which task force it belongs to, and whether it is a level one, two or three.
If it's a level one, the child in question is suspected to be in immediate danger, Peracchi said, and could be experiencing active abuse at their place of residence, for example. But often, images may lead investigators on a cross-country hunt.
“You may have a victim in New Hampshire, but your suspect is in Oregon,” he said. “There are so many cases we come across that way. An 11-year-old child on a social media site communicating with what they believe to be another child. You see the conversation goes from, ‘Hey, how are you, you're cute, you're silly,' to, ‘Want to do something fun? Let's send pictures back and forth.' And the person on the other side is an adult across the country.”
Peracchi and Jacques attributed the explosion in numbers to increasing accessibility, pervasive use of cellphones and improved detection techniques. The people who want to exploit children are going to go where the children are, they said, adding Snapchat and Kik are both “notorious” for child sexual abuse imagery, which includes minors exchanging lewd photos and videos to each other.
According to the New York Times, last year, there were 18.4 million total reports of child sexual abuse imagery, more than one-third of the total ever reported.
“There is a vast quantity of this material, but the rise in numbers, at least at this particular historical moment, may be to some extent or primarily due to our improved ability to detect these images and to get other actors to join in the process of detection,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at UNH.
ICAC investigates cases involving possession, distribution and manufacturing of child sexual abuse imagery, and sometimes, all three offenses can be involved in one case.
In June, a Warren man was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in New Hampshire State Prison for possessing, manufacturing and distributing child sexual abuse images, as well as sexually assaulting minors. Jacques said often a press release goes out about an arrest, and victims come forward.
“One key factor that people don't realize is those looking at child pornography, anywhere from 50 to 70% have been hands-on offenders,” Peracchi said. “They've sexually assaulted at least one child.”
Sometimes authorities are able to step in before a child could be abused. In the case of Joseph Norko, a Vermont man attempting to arrange sex with whom he thought was a 12-year-old girl in Portsmouth, two online undercover investigations apprehended him.
One investigation proved Norko wired $200 through Western Union in Portsmouth to pay for sexual relations with a girl. Prosecutors said he sent lewd photos of himself to someone he thought was the child's mother, and he asked the recipient to show them to her child. Those crimes are alleged to have occurred on four days in July 2017 in Portsmouth, and the person he was actually communicating with was a Portsmouth police officer.
Peracchi emphasized, “Everything has increased by 100% over the past year.”
Caitlin Massey, director of the Strafford County Child Advocacy Center in Dover, said “we see on a fairly regular basis” children grappling with the life-altering, traumatic impacts of child sexual abuse imagery.
Massey said some of the cases they deal with come directly from ICAC, where the advocacy center interviews the child in question, but more often, child sexual abuse images are revealed in conjunction with the disclosure of child sexual abuse.
Other times, Massey said, investigators have images or videos, but are unable to identify the child.
“The most important thing we tell families and caregivers is getting their children into treatment — trauma-informed counseling — is the most important piece,” she said. “And this doesn't have to define the rest of their life.”
Massey noted every family system reacts differently to the crime, especially if the offender is a family member or close friend.
Maureen Sullivan, director of the Rockingham County Child Advocacy Center, said she has had cases where a father takes photos of his own children, and then trades them on the web.
“Hearing the stories is hard,” Sullivan said. “Seeing the images is harder.”
Many cases of manufacturing images are prosecuted federally, so county attorneys don't often see them. Nancy Harris, victim assistance director for Strafford County, said when the cases do come to them, often the victim is unidentified, so there isn't a lot her office can do.
More frequently, she said, they assist on the adult “revenge porn” cases, where, for example, an ex-boyfriend may disseminate naked photos of his ex-girlfriend on the web. The crime became a felony in New Hampshire in 2016.
The 2018 study published by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at UNH depicted how vastly different survivors view and handle their trauma. But the three major themes — though the last somewhat divergent from the others — included guilt and shame, ongoing vulnerability and empowerment.
“The main thing they reported was that these images create an ongoing sense of shame and vulnerability because they don't know whose going to be looking at them, when they might resurface, who in the world has seen these images of them in a very humiliating condition,” Finkelhor said. “The other thing that some said, that people may not have been expecting, was that in some cases, they found the existence of the images to be to some extent empowering because it wasn't their word against somebody else's. There was proof.”
Massey said while some children, as a result of their environments or upbringings, are more at-risk when it comes to crimes as such, because of the internet's accessibility, the crime does not discriminate, and can reach any child using a screen.
“I think people would be surprised for most of the families I've worked with, they are like any other family you would encounter,” she said. “Very often these are families you would see at the grocery store. Some children have higher risk factors, but it's unfortunately so prevalent with the internet, these families are living among us.”
Cloudflare embroiled in child abuse row
Internet company Cloudflare is being criticized by campaigners
A charity has accused one of the world's biggest content delivery networks of inadvertently protecting sites that host images of child abuse.
Cloudflare helps websites deliver content faster but some of its clients are known to host illegal content.
The company insists it is powerless because it does not actually host the offending sites.
Campaigners say Cloudflare's services make it easier for clients to avoid detection by "hiding" their locations.
The anti-child-abuse campaign Battling Against Demeaning & Abusive Selfie Sharing claims to have first made the internet company aware of numerous indecent images, including some showing child sexual abuse, on three of its clients' websites over a year ago.
The websites in question reportedly state any takedown notice would be ignored.
And one allegedly allows users to search through a catalogue of abusive images.
Following a Twitter campaign, Cloudflare director of trust and safety Justin Paine asked the charity send a detailed report of its complaint.
"We hope that by making noise, we will finally receive a response from Cloudflare. We're hopeful that they will end their relationship with these sites that profit off the exploitation of non-consenting women and girls," charity advocate Emily Wilson told the BBC.
"All of our efforts have made no difference, and we are now publicizing our efforts to get some public pressure."
Cloudflare states on its website offensive content can be reported through a form, the details of which may then be shared with law enforcement officials if the complaint is deemed legitimate.
BBC News has contacted Cloudflare for comment.
It is not the first time the company has had to defend itself against claims it makes the takedown of illegal content tougher.
The internet giant hit back at the Motion Picture Association earlier this month after the American film body included it in a piracy complaint lodged with the US government.
A Cloudflare representative said at the time: "Cloudflare does not host the referenced websites, cannot block websites, and is not in the business of hiding companies that host illegal content - all facts well known to the industry groups based on our ongoing work with them."
Earlier this year, Cloudflare released a statement confirming it had terminated its services to 8chan, an internet forum used to celebrate mass shootings and spread so-called "manifestos".
It had previously pulled its services from neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.
Losing Cloudflare's protection made 8chan vulnerable to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, whereby a website is bombarded with traffic that overwhelms its servers, rendering it inaccessible.
Josh Hamilton, Former Texas Rangers Player, Arrested on Child Abuse Charges
By John Newby
Wednesday, former Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton surrendered to authorities in Fort Worth on an allegation of injury to a child, which is a 3rd-degree felony. According to CBSDFW, the 38-year-old was released on $35,000 bond. Details surrounding the allegation have not been revealed, per TMZ.
According to the report, one of the bond conditions was that Hamilton is to have no contact with one of his daughters. Although it has since been expanded to include any child under 17 years of age.
Following the arrest, the Texas Rangers released a statement about Hamilton that read, "The Texas Rangers take the issue of family violence very seriously. We are aware of the situation involving Josh Hamilton. Since this is an ongoing legal matter, we have no further comment.”
After spending five seasons with the Rangers, Hamilton was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame. He was a member of the team from 2008 to 2012 and helped lead the Rangers to two World Series appearances. Hamilton also won AL MVP in 2010 and was selected to the MLB All-Star Game each season.
Hamilton joined the Rangers after being traded from Cincinnati in 2007. And while the Rangers did not win either World Series, Hamilton later made headlines when he explained a home run that he had hit during Game 6 in 2011.
"We're in that deciding game, and suddenly I'm in the on-deck circle, in extra innings, and I'm telling you, out of nowhere, I hear the Holy Spirit talking to me. This is the honest truth. For real," Hamilton wrote in a piece for The Players' Tribune. "I'm standing there, getting ready to bat, and I hear it clear as day. 'You're about to hit a homer right now, son.'"
This home run gave the Rangers a two-run lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Texas-based franchise ultimately lost the World Series after allowing a comeback.
Throughout his career – and his life – Hamilton has struggled with drug and alcohol problems and suffered several relapses during his playing career. He later credited faith with keeping him on track in his piece for The Players' Tribune.
“I hope that people saw me as just a real person, a human being, with his struggles and his challenges like everyone else,” he wrote. “I wasn't trying to pretend that I was Superman, or like I was above anybody and could do no wrong. I was just trying to do the best I could and to be honest about what I was going through."
Assistant scoutmaster charged with sexually abusing boy, 12
NORTH BELLMORE, N.Y. (AP) — An assistant scoutmaster on Long Island has been charged with sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy at several Boy Scouts of America retreats and meetings.
Nassau County police arrested 26-year-old Jonathan Spohrer at his home in North Bellmore on Thursday after an extensive investigation, the department said.
Police said Spohrer abused the boy during Boy Scouts retreats at several locations in New York state from January through November of 2018.
Spohrer was arraigned Friday on a second-degree charge of sexual conduct against a child. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.
Spohrer's attorney, Joseph Carbone Jr., said his client denies the allegations. "We look forward to vigorously defending these allegations in court and have faith in the legal system which presumes the innocence of the accused," Carbone said Saturday.
Chris Coscia, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Council of the Boy Scouts, said the organization is "shocked and disgusted" at the alleged behavior.
"Upon learning of these reports, we removed this individual and prohibited him from any future participation in our programs," Coscia said in a statement. He said the Scouts have a "multi-layered process of safeguards" to prevent abuse.
Pope criticized by major child sexual abuse inquiry for church's refusal to cooperate
Vatican's response denounced as ‘very disappointing' by lead counsel to child sexual abuse inquiry
By Samuel Osborne
Pope Francis has been criticized for refusing to fully cooperate with the UK's child sexual abuse inquiry.
Brian Altman QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said the Catholic Church‘s “refusal to provide the inquiry with all the evidence it has sought is very disappointing”.
He said the Vatican's response contradicted the pontiff's own condemnation of child sexual abuse after his representative in Britain, the apostolic nuncio, declined to give evidence.
Pope Francis has “acknowledged the ‘physical, psychological and spiritual damage' done to the victims of child sexual abuse, and added that ‘a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church',” Mr. Altman told the chair of the inquiry, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“Chair, you may consider that it is difficult to reconcile the Pope's own words with the Holy See's response to the requests properly made to it by this inquiry.”
The independent inquiry into child sex abuse had asked about the involvement of the apostolic nuncio in the handling of various allegations concerning the church.
The inquiry used the proper diplomatic channels and sought help from the UK Foreign Office in a vain attempt to get a statement from the Vatican.
However, the Vatican declined to send evidence about the process used to discipline priests who commit offences and failed to submit a witness statement.
The papacy “considers that the domestic laws of a foreign sovereign entity are not the proper object for a British inquiry,” Mr. Altman said, according to The Guardian.
The hearing into abuse within the Catholic church continues.
Earlier this year Pope Francis issued a law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns to report sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
The move requires all dioceses around the world to have a system in place to handle claims confidentially and the rules also apply to historical case.
Alarm Bells Sounded Over Child Abuse at Thailand's Buddhist Temples
By Craig Lewis
The image of Thailand's monastic sangha, which has been tarnished in recent years by a growing litany of scandals involving corruption, misconduct, and impropriety, has once again come under scrutiny in light of recent reports about a 51-year-old temple abbot accused of detaining and sexually abusing a 13-year-old novice monk.
Among the allegations detailed in media reports published in October, Phra Khru Sangkharakwinai Inthawinyo, the abbot of Wat Intharam, a Buddhist temple in Kanchanburi in western Thailand, has been accused of detaining the novice monk in his residence for five days and forcing him to provide massages and oral sex.
In a scathing editorial published in the Bangkok Post newspaper on Wednesday, veteran Thai journalist Sanitsuda Ekachai lamented that reports of sexual misconduct among Thailand's Buddhist monastics have become so frequent as to be almost commonplace. She observed that without sincere and far-reaching reforms and greater transparency in the way monastic communities are governed, Buddhist temples would remain breeding grounds for abuse and could no longer be considered safe sanctuaries of spiritual refuge for the nation's children.
The novice monk, identified only by the nickname Nat, has alleged that since being ordained in June, the abbot often ordered him to provide massages and oral sex, and even going so far as to detain him for daily abuse over a five-day period. The boy alleged that the abbot had intimidated him into complying, saying he possessed a firearm.
After telephoning relatives for help, reports indicate that the boy was finally rescued from the abbot's residence by 41-year-old monk Phra Natthee Sirijantho, who alleged that the abbot kicked him, stepped on the boy's chest, and repeatedly hit his face.
The head of Buddhist affairs in Kanchanaburi, Somsak Sammano, is reported to have said that senior local monks would form a committee to investigate the accusations, “followed by an order from the Kanchanaburi cleric elders to defrock the pedophile monk.”
The abbot has denied all accusations.
In her editorial, Sanitsuda decries the institutional complacency and complicity that has allowed such a culture of abuse to fester unremedied, writing:
The system is sick. Seriously sick. Yet the clergy keeps turning a blind eye to these heinous crimes which are happening right under their noses to protect their image.
In rural Thailand, being a novice is a ticket for poor boys to get a free education, shelter and financial support. Without proper oversight, sexual abuse is rife, both among the older and younger novices as well as between monks and novices.
Often, as recently happened in Kanchanaburi, the abbots themselves abuse their authority to sexually assault fearful boys with impunity, knowing their victims cannot fight back.
Sanitsuda explains that although some monastic abusers incriminate themselves by posting videos of their sexual acts online, or boasting of their “conquests” via social media, most pedophile monks are able to evade prosecution thanks to “a culture of fear, secrecy, and impunity” that pervades the nation's Buddhist temples.
According to a 2019 study of 100 reports of misconduct among “rogue” Buddhist monks, “one-third of them involved sexual misconduct. The majority of perpetrators are senior monks with high clerical education. Many are the abbots themselves.” Sanitsuda explains, acknowledging that, “This closed system without transparency and accountability is a fertile breeding ground for corruption and abuse of power.”
In response to the gravity of the situation, the Thailand-based International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), an international Buddhist community co-founded by the prominent Thai academic, activist, and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa with the aim of connecting socially engaged Buddhists around the world, recently pledged to form a working group to engage with lay and monastic leaders with a view to addressing the systemic issue.
“Short of cleric reform to make monastic communities transparent with external oversight,' says Sanitsuda, “pedophiles will continue to have a field day in temples that are no longer safe for our children.”
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the nation's population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2015. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks. While communities of female renunciants also exist, the monastic authorities in Thailand have never officially recognized the ordination of women, and bhikkhunis do not generally enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.
In Iraq, religious ‘pleasure marriages' are a front for child prostitution
BBC investigation exposes Shia clerics in Baghdad advising men on how to abuse girls
By Nawal Al-Maghafi
I'm walking through the security cordon that leads into Kadhimiyah, one of Shia Islam's holiest sites. I'm in a queue, along with dozens of pilgrims who have come from all over the world to pay their respects to the shrine of Imam Kadhim. At the gate, a female security guard pats me down and looks into my handbag, a reminder that the story I'm reporting on here isn't going to be easy.
As I walk around the market stalls surrounding the shrine, I notice the many “marriage offices” dotted around the mosque, which are licensed to perform Sharia marriages. I'd received tips that some clerics here were performing short-term mutaa [pleasure] marriages, a practice – illegal under Iraqi law – whereby a men can pay for a temporary wife, with the officiating cleric receiving a cut.
I was told that behind closed doors many of these clerics were using and abusing Sharia marriage laws to exploit women for profit. These men were grooming vulnerable girls and young women, trapping them into prostitution and pimping them out, all with seemingly total impunity.
For such a story, we needed to secure evidence on camera. We recruited a male undercover reporter who, over the course of our year-long investigation, met and secretly filmed several of the clerics running the Sharia marriage offices in the vicinity of the shrines. Meanwhile, I met and interviewed the clerics' female victims, as well as some of the male clients who routinely used pleasure marriages.
First, our undercover reporter approached a number of clerics with marriage offices near the shrine of Kadamiya in Baghdad to gauge how many were willing to perform mutaa ceremonies. Out of 10 clerics that were approached, eight agreed to arrange a pleasure marriage for our reporter. “You can marry a girl for half an hour and as soon as it's over, you can marry another,” one of the clerics, Sayyed Raad, told our reporter on camera, “even after half an hour, you can marry another,” he repeats.
We also caught on camera evidence supporting some of the victims' claims that clerics often conspired with their male clients to deceive women. In a Kadamiya marriage office, our reporter, posing as a visiting businessman, was advised by the cleric to use deception when planning a pleasure marriage: “Take my advice, don't tell her where my offices are in Kadamiya, so afterwards she can't come looking for her rights. Trust me, it's better that way.”
We found that teenage girls were particularly vulnerable to predatory men assisted by clerics, often paying the heaviest of prices for their misfortune. In Iraq, for a young girl to lose her virginity outside of marriage is widely seen as a scandal bringing shame on her family and tainting its honor. Such girls are often disowned and shunned by their families. In some cases, the girls are murdered.
In Kadamiya, Sayyed Raad offered to officiate a pleasure marriage between our reporter and “a young virgin”. He advised him not to take her virginity during their time together, adding that “anal sex is permitted”. “If I do take her virginity, God forbid, what do I do?” our reporter enquired. “Do [her family] know where you live?” Sayyed Raad asked. “No, they don't,” our reporter confirmed. “Then you can just leave,” the cleric declared.
Reem alleged a cleric groomed her then sold her to three other men.
Watching the secret footage was difficult, especially as I was interviewing many young women who were living with the consequences of the clerics' actions. One of them, Mona, was just 14 when an older man started following her home from school. “He told me he was rich, that he loved my personality, that I was beautiful.” A few weeks later, the man introduced her to a cleric and pressed her to enter into a pleasure marriage.
“I informed [the cleric] I was a virgin,” Mona told me, but the cleric didn't ask for her parents' consent, as is the custom in Iraq, saying it wasn't needed as both she and the man were adults. Now 17, she is under pressure from her family to marry; but is terrified her future husband will find out she's no longer a virgin. Her uncle, she tells me, killed her cousin merely for having a boyfriend. Now she keeps thinking about suicide. “I have no way out. If I feel more pressure, I will do it.”
The investigation took me to Karbala, Shia Islam's holiest site. An important part of our investigation was to establish the role of the holy city's religious authorities in all this – particularly whether they condoned the practice of pleasure marriages. At the main marriage office, I spoke to Sheikh Emad Alassady, who insisted the practice was illegal.
But around the corner from the office, we found another cleric who was willing to officiate a pleasure marriage to a child, including giving explicit instructions on how to sexually abuse children without getting caught.
This cleric was clearly not the only one taking part in such abuses. Another of the women I spoke to, “Reem”, accused prominent clerics of being involved in pimping and pleasure marriages. After Reem's husband was killed by an Isis bomb in 2016, she and her two children became homeless.
Reem said that when she approached a well-known cleric for alms, he had sex with her and pimped her out to his friends. Reem doesn't name the cleric, but describes him as powerful and well-known in her community.
“He proposed a pleasure marriage with me. I had to do it to survive,” she said. They would have sex once or twice a week in his office. Then he began bringing his friends, including one who, Reem says, was “famous in the region. He forced me to go into a room with this friend.”
Reem then found out the cleric was charging his associates three or four hundred dollars to have sex with her, while she was paid just pocket money. “They were like animals,” she told me. “They have sex with a woman then throw her away.”
But how are clerics able to get away with breaking the law so blatantly? The strength of the Shia religious establishment, backed by the intimidatory weight of armed Shia militias, appears to have given Shia clerics a sense of total impunity. Our investigation has found many of the clerics enjoy powerful political connections. One of them, Karbala-based Sayyed Salawi, boasted to our reporter that he was attached to a Shia militia, a claim which is given credence by photographic evidence we found on social media.
The BBC later approached the clerics for their response. Sayyed Raad denied he performed mutaa marriages. The others did not respond. Sayyed Raad had said he was a follower of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shia cleric.
The BBC approached Ayatollah Sistani's office in the holy city of Najaf with the reporter's evidence, and asked him to clarify his stance on mutaa marriages.
“If these practices are happening in the way you are saying then we condemn them unreservedly,” his office said. “Temporary marriage is not allowed as a tool to sell sex in a way that belittles the dignity and humanity of women.
“A guardian of a girl should not permit her marriage without her consent… and she is not supposed to marry if it's against the law, which could bring troubles to her.”
Like some other Shia leaders in Iraq, the 89-year-old Ayatollah Sistani has previously – in a book published 25 years ago titled The Path of the Righteous – written that if a child under nine were promised in marriage or temporary marriage, sexual touching was religiously permitted.
The ayatollah's office told the BBC times had changed and it had been erased from his current books.
This investigation showed how the hardships of post-conflict Iraq, and the rise of the Shia religious conservative establishment, have turned the clock back on women's rights. Secular laws designed to protect women and children have been part of the Iraqi legal system for decades, but they have been rendered meaningless in the face of continuous flouting by powerful men backed by the country's religious and political establishment. Meanwhile, a whole generation of young girls and women are paying a devastating price. As Reem put it, describing the clerics who abused her, “They eat the flesh, then throw away the bones.
We must stand up to China's abuse of its Muslim minorities
By Marco Rubio
Beijing's horrifying repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang is just part of its campaign to force conformity on ethnic and religious minorities.
The full extent of Beijing's evil is finally coming into view. As the world watches the ongoing democratic uprising in Hong Kong, it is impossible to ignore the greater backdrop of oppression and egregious human rights abuses across China: more than 1 million religious minorities now in Xinjiang's modern-day concentration camps, vast efforts at cultural reprogramming, and regular physical torture.
Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese Muslim of Kazakh descent, described being separated from her family and kept in Xinjiang under heinous conditions, where prisoners were routinely punished for observing their faith and having insufficient knowledge about Chinese culture or language.
Over the last several months, the steady trickle of horrifying stories has provided a fuller picture of the kinds of evils regularly occurring within these camps. We have now heard credible accounts of relentless brainwashing, systematic sexual abuse and extensive physical punishments, like fingernails ripped out and forced abortions.
These are some of the darkest stories ever told, yet they are critical to air to the world. Now, we hear them with terrible frequency. In Congress, Nury Turkel, chair of the board for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, recently provided testimony, explaining that speaking “may cost the lives of [his] parents, but … it's the right thing to do”.
However, we must recognize that this evil is not exclusive to Xinjiang or even to the nation's Muslims, but one more consistent with the Chinese Communist party's greater philosophy. Any religion or ideology that recognizes a higher power than the party is a threat that must be brought to heel or eliminated. Political and cultural conformity must be enforced at all costs.
The end goal is Sinicization: the forced transformation of religious and ethnic minorities into narrow, party-approved cultural, ideological, and ethnic norms.
We see this in Xinjiang. We increasingly see it among the Hui, a separate population of Chinese Muslims with no history of radicalization, who are now regularly surveilled and repressed, and whose mosques are being stripped of their distinctive domes. We have seen it in Tibet, where monasteries have been destroyed for decades and the Buddhist faithful imprisoned and tortured for peaceful protest. We have seen it in China's numerous Christian communities, where intense persecution has forced millions to practice their religion underground. We have even seen it in tiny, ancient sects like that of Kaifeng's Jews, where the government recently banned communal worship for Passover and other holidays, as well as destroyed signs to erase evidence of the community's Jewish history.
The end goal is Sinicization: the forced transformation of religious and ethnic minorities into narrow, party-approved cultural, ideological and ethnic norms. In its worst forms, it's a eugenic project, which explains why the government pressures Uyghur women to have fewer children and marry outside their ethnicity.
Most of the work to shine light on the atrocities that Sinicization requires has occurred outside of the organs of American government so far. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to individual dissidents who have escaped, diasporic minority communities, international watchdog organizations and individual researchers and journalists.
But more action is required on the part of the US government. My Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 – which would direct our government to collect and publicize information about China's abuses in Xinjiang as well as Chinese intimidation of US citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) – has already passed unanimously in the Senate. The legislation urges the application of Global Magnitsky and other sanctions, a review of export controls, and the establishment of a voluntary database that American citizens and LPRs could use to provide information on missing family members.
The bill now awaits final passage in the House. It would represent an important first step at striking back against this tremendous injustice.
The international community cannot turn a blind eye to what is unfolding in Xinjiang, Tibet, Ningxia and throughout the rest of China. The Chinese Communist party's ideological commitment to totalitarianism has become mobilized into regular, brutal action, intended to forcibly assimilate anyone who dares question the Communist party's political and cultural control. Lawmakers in free capitals around the world must step up and counter this evil.
Mercy Corps says it has 'severed all ties' with co-founder Dan O'Neill over handling of 1990s sex abuse investigation
By Noelle Crombie
When Ellsworth Culver apparently learned in the early 1990s that Mercy Corps might find out that his daughter had accused him of sexually abusing her, he told a colleague.
Culver didn't confide in just anyone.
He went to his old friend Dan O'Neill. The two had started Mercy Corps a decade earlier and traveled the world together as co-founders of what has grown into a $471-million-a-year international relief agency working in more than 40 countries.
In his first public comments about what happened next, O'Neill now says his conversation with Culver prompted him to initiate an investigation into Tania Culver Humphrey's allegations.
O'Neill and two other friends of Culver's on the Mercy Corps board met with Humphrey.
Mercy Corps closed the review, O'Neill told The Oregonian/OregonLive, after Culver persuaded them of his innocence. Culver was demoted but continued to work in a top position at Mercy Corps until his death in 2005.
O'Neill, whose name was once synonymous with the agency he helped launch, had said little since the newspaper published a 10-month investigation that showed Culver abused his daughter from the time she was in preschool into her teens.
O'Neill for weeks referred all questions to Mercy Corps. But he recently sent an email that said he commends Humphrey, now 48, for speaking out again.
“I fully support Tania's boldly coming forward and believe further investigation should be done,” he wrote.
He didn't address why Humphrey's detailed account at the time, medical records she shared and a counselor's report weren't enough. He continues to decline all requests for interviews.
The news organization's investigation identified eight of Humphrey's friends from childhood and high school who confirmed she made disclosures of sexual abuse then. Three said they witnessed Culver grope his daughter on sleepovers or in the car. One woman said Culver also sexually abused her nearly a dozen times when she was in ninth grade at St. Mary's Academy in Portland. Another said she saw pornographic pictures of young girls in Culver's desk at the family home.
The reporting prompted the resignations of longtime CEO Neal Keny-Guyer and senior legal counsel Barnes Ellis.
Board member Robert Newell, who participated in the 1990s inquiry, also stepped down, saying “no one should endure what (Humphrey) has described, especially not as a child at the hands of her father.” He too turned down multiple requests for interviews.
The board chairman at the time, Raymond Vath, declined to answer questions, citing a failing memory and health problems. He recalled in a statement, however, that Culver brought Mercy Corps to the brink of bankruptcy through his mismanagement.
O'Neill's involvement in the 1990s inquiry prompted Mercy Corps on Friday to announce it has “severed all ties” with him.
O'Neill “does not represent Mercy Corps in any way,” the relief agency said in a statement. "We are currently examining how to appropriately reflect his role in Mercy Corps' history.”
Humphrey has called for a reexamination of O'Neill's legacy at Mercy Corps, where his picture still hangs on the walls and tributes remain on the website.
“I think they need to reassess anybody's legacy who allowed a sexual predator go on for their own benefit,” Humphrey said. “I don't care how near and dear they are. That is unconscionable.”
It's a stark turn of events for O'Neill, who earlier this year was the subject of a congressional tribute in honor of his retirement from Mercy Corps.
O'Neill and Culver started the influential aid organization in the early 1980s. In a story O'Neill has often told, he was moved to action after the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s. The two men remained with Mercy Corps in high-level leadership posts for years.
When Humphrey's sexual abuse allegations surfaced, O'Neill was a board member. He didn't say why Culver chose to come to him at the time.
He became president in 1994 after the investigation ended and Culver was demoted to senior vice president.
According to Mercy Corps tax filings, O'Neill was at one point among the organization's highest paid employees. Its 2012 filings list O'Neill's title as founder. He was paid $170,950 in salary that year and given another $30,873 in additional compensation, the tax forms show.
Mercy Corps staffers say O'Neill's prominence diminished over time. He was an occasional visitor to the relief agency's headquarters in Portland's Old Town. His work centered on Mercy Corps fundraising efforts, specifically those aimed at mid-range gifts up to $10,000 and small donations that come through the website, email and the mail. An adept public speaker, O'Neill was featured at events for donors who made contributions to Mercy Corps as part of their estates.
In an interview before his resignation earlier this month, Keny-Guyer downplayed O'Neill's role at Mercy Corps. O'Neill, he said, was part time in the years before his retirement in January.
“He frankly has not been involved in any running or management of the organization for over 20 years -- for a long time,” Keny-Guyer said.
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NC legislators pass bill to close sexual assault loopholes
By MARTHA WAGGONER
Raleigh, N.C. -- North Carolina legislators are putting new legal power behind the notion that "no means no" — even if a woman first said yes.
A 40-year-old North Carolina court ruling that says women can't revoke consent once a sex act has begun could be a thing of the past after the state House and Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a wide-ranging sexual abuse bill.
The proposal would undo a 1979 court decision that has made North Carolina the only state where women can't revoke consent. The bill also undoes a court ruling from 2008 that said sexual assault laws don't apply to people who were incapacitated because of their own action as victims, such as by taking drugs or alcohol.
This session marked the fourth time that Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, had introduced legislation to undo the 1979 decision.
The legislation is "an incredible victory for women's rights and protections for victims of sexual assault," Jackson said in a statement. "Every year victims would call us, share their stories and ask why this loophole still existed."
Skye David, staff attorney for the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the group had advocated for 20 years for a law to overturn that decision and since 2008 to undo the damage caused by a court decision that year regarding incapacitation.
The difference this time was that victim advocates found bipartisan support, and both chambers viewed the legislation as a priority, David said. "They (legislators) heard stories from survivors, and they were really moved by that," she said in a phone interview.
Along with fixing the consent and incapacitation issues, the bill makes it illegal to drug someone's drink.
The floor debate caused Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, to discuss an incident from his youth when he believed someone intended to abuse or harm him. He was able to avoid the situation but later learned that a man 14 years older than he had been abused by the same person. How many others, Pittman wondered aloud, had been abused in those 14 years?
"Neither one of us, to my knowledge, ever told anybody," he said
The bill also expands the requirement to report child abuse; extends the statute of limitations for a civil action for child sexual abuse; and tightens bans on online conduct by high-risk sex offenders that endangers children. For example, the bill makes it a misdemeanor for anyone 18 years old or older not to report child sexual abuse.
Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, said on the House floor that he has received "dozens and dozens" of messages, letters and calls from victims who followed the bill through the legislative process.
"To those victims, I want to say this bill is for you," he said. "If you're a victim of child abuse, this bill is for you. If you're adult victim of sexual assault, this bill is for you. If you had your childhood innocence ripped out of your soul by an adult predator, this bill is for you."
The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature. A spokeswoman said Cooper was reviewing the bill.
Can Facebook ever be kept safe without hurting staff?
Facebook's family-friendly image comes at a huge cost
By Alan Martin
In 2017, Facebook ever so slightly adjusted its mission statement. Out went a pledge to “make the world more open and connected”, and in its place came an intention to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”.
You could view this as an admission that 'open' had failed. 'Open' means open to hate speech, child abuse, violence, sex and the kind of illegal acts Facebook would rather have nothing to do with. And yet the company now finds itself having to clean up such messes every hour of every day.
Or rather, it employs outsiders to do said dirty work. In The Cleaners, a documentary by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, contractors from the Philippines candidly discuss the steady stream of sex, violence and hate speech they have to sift through every day.
They have to make each decision in eight to 10 seconds, they say, and “don't overthink” is a direct quote from the training materials, such as they are. “Don't doubt too much whether your decision is right or wrong, because otherwise you will overthink it, and then you won't be able to take a decision,” Riesewieck summarizes to TechRadar at Mozilla's Mozfest, where he and his co-director have just been on a panel discussing internet moderation.
If ever there were a company to stress test the idea that any problem can be solved with enough money, it's Facebook. And yet, so far, the problem just continues to grow. In 2009, Facebook had just 12 (yes, that's twelve) content moderators looking out for the welfare of 120 million users. There are now over two billion people on the platform and around 15,000 moderators. While that means the ratio of moderator to user has gone up from paltry to feeble, it's worth reflecting that Facebook in 2019 is very different to what it was a decade ago, when the Like button was the latest innovation, and Facebook Live was still years away.
"The worst of the worst of the internet's trash"
“Estimates say that there are about 100,000 professionals that work in this field,” says Clara Tsao, a Mozilla fellow and expert in countering online disinformation. They “deal with the worst of the worst of the internet's trash,” she adds, noting that on 4chan they're literally called 'janitors'.
Unlike real-world janitors, though, the internet's cleaners aren't always given the right equipment for the enormous task at hand. Facebook's Filipino contingent would occasionally encounter exchanges in languages they didn't speak, using Google Translate to follow meaning. That inevitably takes a sledgehammer to nuance, before you even get onto the cultural differences inevitable between countries separated by an eight-hour time zone gap.
Facebook moderators have to monitor vast amounts of content from around the world, and may be required to assess conversations in a language they don't speak.
Facebook moderators aren't only located in the Philippines. There are offices around the world, and it was in Dublin where Chris Gray found himself after a spell teaching in Asia. Now he's the lead plaintiff representing moderators in High Court proceedings against Facebook. Over a nine-month spell at the company (in Ireland, most workers are on 11-month contracts, he says but most leave early), Gray was dealing with 500-600 bits of content a night, usually in the 6pm to 2am slot. It was only a year after he left that he was officially diagnosed with PTSD.
“It took me a year before I realized that this job had knocked me on my arse,” he says as part of the panel discussion. This delayed reaction, Riesewieck tells us, isn't wholly uncommon. “In some cases they told us it's mostly their friends telling them that they changed,” he explains.
In any case, many of Gray's former colleagues are privately pleased at him breaking NDA and leading the charge to legal action – even if they're not prepared to say so publicly just yet. “People are just coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Oh, thank God, somebody has spoken out and said this,'” he tells TechRadar later.
To be clear, despite having personally been affected by the work, Gray feels that it's misleading to assume it's non-stop gore, child exploitation and sex. “To be honest, most of the work is tedious,” he says. “It's just people reporting each other because they're having an argument and they want to use some process to get back at the other person.”
Tedious, but high pressure. In the Irish office, Gray had 30 seconds to pass verdict on content whether it was a one-line insult or a 30-minute video. “If your auditor clicked in [on a video] two seconds later than you and he saw something different – he heard a different slur, or he saw something higher up the priority ladder – then bang, you've made a wrong decision.” Wrong decisions affect quality score, and quality score affects your employment. Despite this, the target for the office was a nigh-on impossible 98% accuracy.
Finding people to talk about their moderation experience is tough, as Block and Riesewieck found when looking for subjects. NDAs are universal, and the work comes under a codename – at the time of filming it was 'project honey badger'.
Despite this, Facebook – or the subcontractors that deal with moderation – hire quite openly, even if they're often grossly misleading about what the job actually entails. “They use superheroes in costumes, ‘come be a superhero, clean up the internet',” explains Gabi Ivens, another Mozilla fellow on the panel. “One advert in Germany for content moderators asked questions like ‘do you love social media and wants to be up to date with what's happening in the world?'”
But despite the general tediousness of the day-to-day, there's a surprising element to Block and Riesewieck's documentary: many of their interview subjects took real pride in the role, seeing it as less of a job and more of a duty.
“They told us they feel like superheroes of the internet – like policemen guarding the internet,” says Block. The directors credit this in part to the Philippines' 90% Christian populous. “They told us they feel like Jesus freeing the world from it,” Block adds. This, in turn, might make people feel reluctant to walk away, seeing it as their ethical duty rather than just a job.
But there are limits to this, especially as moderators aren't making the final calls themselves. Here, the sacred text is Facebook's labyrinthine set of rules and instructions: thousands of words accumulated over many years. In some cases, people are having to protect speech they think should be banned, or ban speech they think should be protected, something that Ivens sees as an obvious problem for wellbeing. “Keeping content online that you don't think should be online is extremely damaging, even before you think about what people are seeing.”
The irony to treating the rules as sacred is that Facebook's rules have never been an infallible set text: they're the results of years of iterative changes, gradually responding to crises as they emerge, and trying to make the subjective more objective.
Remember the 'free the nipple' campaign? In short, Facebook guidelines originally said that any photograph with breasts in should be banned as pornographic, which meant the internet was deprived of proud mothers breastfeeding on the platform. Facebook gradually shifted its rules and accepted that context matters. In the same way, it's had to accept that although there's nothing illegal with people eating Tide Pods or spreading anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, if something becomes a public health epidemic, then it has a duty to step up.
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We will not have a bright future if we don't protect children from sexual abuse
By Stabroek News
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday, the last day of Amerindian Heritage Celebrations, last year, in my village where the day's cultural events were taking place.
About midday, I went to accompany a driver to a nearby village to drop off a head teacher where we stayed at the village's heritage celebrations until it was time for us to pick up some colleagues of mine to have dinner in my village (heritage site).
It was around 22:20 hours when we reached. The venue was already heavily crowded as usual when it is the last day of the celebration. As I followed my colleagues in the crowd, a woman held my hand and stopped me as they disappeared in front of me.
“Excuse me Sir Guy, you know the girl who, you and you coworker came to, a few months ago, when she was raped?”
“Yes, you mean ‘Anita Marco'? (Not her name). What about her?”
“She just die a few minutes ago at the hospital”.
“I don't know the details but just got that message”.
I kept staring at the woman in shock.
“It's true sir”.
The planned dinner, due to instant death of my inner being, went off my mind immediately. It was as if I had been elevated on a cliff of sadness, oblivious of the people who were celebrating. It was only a week before I spoke to the girl when I visited her at her school.
Still not believing my ears, I fought myself whole night for sleep. I woke up about one o'clock and headed to Anita's house, still in an indistinct state of mind which was only cleared when I saw people gathered in her yard.
I had lost a young ‘daughter', fifteen years old, who I had helped through, together with my colleague, from her previous horrible incident (raped) which my colleague described as if from a ‘deep tunnel.'
It was during that evening, I learnt of her alleged perpetrator (school teacher) who first met her at a city's ice cream place where he insisted on paying for her ice cream and her small sister's. This meeting was about a year prior to her transfer to the school where the alleged perpetrator was a teacher. It was at that school also that I met the already victim.
Subsequent to her death, some of her school colleagues and friends emotionally shared their last moments with her during that wonderful Saturday morning at the school whilst waiting on a teacher who had planned to meet them. They had planned to meet at the Heritage celebrations' last evening in the village. She had indicated to them that she had planned to go shopping with the suspect to buy a pair of jeans. She also shared, according to her friends, her fascination with marrying him and having a wonderful life.
According to them, about midday, the suspect picked her up and took her away to shop which was confirmed by her relatives who had the evidence (a pair of jeans) in her possession. That relative also informed the writer that when the suspect dropped her home about 14:30 hours that Saturday afternoon, they stayed in the vehicle for about 30 to 45 minutes. When the victim finally came out, the relative observed her to be stressed and she seemed to have been crying from observing her eyes. According to the relative, she went straight to a back house and went to sleep in the main building.
Subsequently also, there were persons who indicated having knowledge of the alleged relationship but having never reported it which was too late to save that child from her unfortunate demise.
At Anita's funeral, the writer emotionally uttered these words to the effect that “We will not have a bright future if we continue to destroy our young lives”. Translation of that is that there are so many abused children today, especially the young under-aged girls who are left to suffer psychologically for the rest of their lives, as was recently reported by the Child Care and Protection Agency on their findings in Region Seven, whilst the suspects go free into hiding in the mines or neighboring countries.
This scenario is shared because there are a lot of unanswered questions as to why, where or how we let our societal norms fall down.
Are our village leaders, our parents, our grandparents, uncles, our educators, our police, our soldiers, our regional officers, our John Public familiar with the laws that protect our children or themselves?
Due to the above burning question, it is necessary, therefore, to share some of the clauses from the sexual offences acts of the Guyana's law in an effort to eliminate this horrible mental illness that has over whelmed our societies.
Guyana's Sexual Offences Act states the following:
Section 2 (Part I)
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires interpretation.
“Adult” means a person of or over the age of eighteen years;
“Child” means a person under the age of eighteen years;
Section 9 (Sexual Offences Act Part IV)
Sexual Grooming of Child
(1) An adult commits an offence if-
(a) Having met or communicated with a child on at least two earlier occasions, he or she-
(i) Intentionally meets the child; or
(ii) Travels with the intention of meeting the child in any part of the world;
(b) The child is under the age of sixteen years; and
(c) At the time of the meeting or travel, he or she-
(i) Intends to do anything to or in respect of the child, during or after the meeting, in any part of the world, which, if the act were done in Jamaica, would amount to the commission by any person of a sexual offence under this Act; and
(ii) Does not reasonably believe that the child is of or over the age of sixteen years.
(2) An adult commits an offence if he or she causes another person to carry out the offence specified in subsection (1).
(3) In subsection (I), the reference to the adult having met or communicated with the child is a reference to the adult having met the child in any part of the world or having communicated with the child by any means from, to or in any part of the world.
(4) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on conviction in a Circuit Court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fifteen years.
Sexual Intercourse with person under sixteen
(1) Subject to subsection (3), a person who has sexual intercourse with another person who is under the age of sixteen years commits an offence.
(2) Any person who attempts to have sexual intercourse with any person under the age of sixteen years commits an offence.
(4) Where the person charged with an offence under sub- section (1) is an adult in authority, then, he or she is liable upon conviction in a Circuit Court to imprisonment for life, or such other term as the Court considers appropriate, nothing less than fifteen years, and the Court may, where the person so convicted has authority or guardianship over the child concerned exercise it like powers as under section 7(7).
(6) In this section, “adult in authority” means an adult who—
(a) Is in a position of trust or authority in relation to a child;
(b) Is a person with whom a child is in a relationship of dependency; or
(c) Stands in loco parentis (in the place of a parent)to a child.
Householder, etc.., inducing or encouraging violation of child under sixteen
A person commits an offence who, being the owner or occupier of any premises, or having, or acting or assisting in, the management or control thereof, induces or knowingly allows any child under the age of sixteen years to resort to or be in or upon such premises for the purpose of-
Having sexual intercourse with any man or woman; or
(b) Engaging in any act with any man or woman that constitutes grievous sexual assault upon the child.
The above sections are highlighted here due to the fact that most cases of child sexual abuse, including ‘Anita's' scenario (sexual grooming of child), are caused by the offences mentioned.
Let's hope that we, adults, particularly the parents, and children, become enlightened and knowledgeable of our laws, by us continue studying them, that are there to protects us and become civilized towards our female counterparts.
Knowledge is a light through whose guidance we can walk out from the darkness of ignorance.