Sandusky sentenced 30 to 60 years a second time
By Phil Ray
BELLEFONTE -- The trauma and raw emotions associated with the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case were as intense as ever Friday afternoon when the former Penn State assistant football coach for a second time was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Sandusky -- facing resentencing on 45 charges stemming from his sexual abuse of 10 young boys between 1995 and 2008 -- appeared in a Centre County courtroom for the hearing that was ordered in February by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
He thanked Warren County President Judge Maureen A. Skerda, appointed by the Supreme Court to preside over the hearing, for having the opportunity to speak, but then said, "I am unable to admit remorse for something I didn't do."
Sandusky, 75, said he initially wasn't going to exercise his right to speak during the hearing, but he decided to do so after talking to a young woman who he knew from the past.
She had been abused as a young person and was part of his Second Mile Charity for high-risk youth.
The young mother happened to be visiting his wife, Dottie, when he called his wife this past week, and she related how her experience with the Second Mile turned her life around.
At the end of the conversation, she told Sandusky she loved him.
Choking up twice, Sandusky related nobody could take those good memories away from him.
Judge Skerda replied that a jury of his peers had found Sandusky guilty of multiple sexual abuse charges, leaving those youngsters with "a legacy of trauma that is relived with every (court) proceeding."
She stated in her review of the case that Sandusky had a career as a coach and that he had created an environment of loyalty and trust among young people, but Sandusky also had another side that resulted in his conviction for multiple crimes, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
"I want the victims to understand that what happened to them is not their fault," Skerda said to Sandusky.
She then went on to impose the same 30- 60-year sentence that Sandusky received in October 2012 when he was before Judge John Cleland of McKean County, who presided over his three-week trial.
While Sandusky's attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay of Butler, pleaded with the judge for a lesser sentence, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Buck pointed to Sandusky's spotty prison record, stating his life behind bars has had "a common theme of blaming others and not accepting responsibility for his actions."
Lindsay told the judge that in his 40 years of dealing with criminal cases, Friday's sentencing hearing was the most important he has had.
He presented letters from five people, who referred to Sandusky as a good neighbor, a religious man who never used alcohol or drugs and a man who led an exemplary life.
He stated a 30- to 60-year sentence for Sandusky represents a life sentence.
The prosecution presented its own letters.
The victims did not appear Friday to testify against Sandusky, desiring to avoid additional trauma, Buck said.
The victim statements were read into the record.
The victims were known throughout the trial by numbers 1 through 10.
Victim 1 wrote that when he was a child, Sandusky had promised to be my friend.
Instead, he wrote, Sandusky "humiliated me beyond description."
He called Sandusky the worst kind of pedophile, stating he was a man who "wanted to manipulate and abuse all of his victims."
The mother of Victim 9 wrote she never realized Sandusky was sexually abusing her son, actions which she stated, "Forever changed his life for the worse."
"You have destroyed my family. I cannot forgive that," she wrote.
Victim 6 related how Sandusky called himself the "Tickle Monster."
He never realized until he grew older, that Sandusky's touching was in fact sexual abuse.
He asked Sandusky to please admit what he did "and ask God to forgive you."
Victim 5, in his letter to the court stated his life has been a difficult road because of Sandusky's abuse. He said he suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and feelings of guilt.
"The sentence of Jerry Sandusky will never erase what he did," wrote Victim 5.
Victim 4 wrote, "I don't know if I will ever forgive you."
After the hearing, Dick Anderson, who, like Sandusky, is a former Penn State coach and a person who knew Sandusky for many years, said in frustration, "Nothing has changed."
He still believes in Sandusky's innocence, stating, "Personally, I feel he shouldn't even be here."
As the courthouse cleared following the two-hour hearing, Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said the victims did not appear because it was "too disturbing."
Storm said to hear Sandusky continue to claim his innocence "is just insulting to those victims."
She said the Sandusky case opened the door for young men to come forward and seek help.
The next step for the defense could be a new appeal to the Superior Court or a challenge to Sandusky's conviction in the federal court.
Lindsay said he believes Sandusky eventually will receive a new trial.
Child Sexual Abuse
Report: Solutions To Stop Sexual Violence Against Children
By SUSAN BRINK
Sexual violence against children happens everywhere: in wealthy enclaves, in slums, in suburbs, in rural villages.
Invariably, it happens in secret: in the privacy of family homes, in dark corners of schools and churches, and in murky shadows at neighborhood, community, sporting and scouting events.
It happens often, and periodically groups put out reports to call attention to the issue. "That's usually where the story stops," says Daniela Ligiero, CEO and executive director of Together for Girls, an organization that works to prevent violence against children. "But there's a lot to be done to prevent it. We want to showcase solutions."
Together for Girls, in partnership with the Oak Foundation and the Equality Institute, organizations with similar goals of preventing violence against children, examined scientific studies and sought expert opinion to compile a review of evidence. Their report, "What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children," was released Nov. 19.
It presents a much-needed guide for policymakers around the world, says Regan Hofmann, acting director of the U.S. Liaison Office, UNAIDS. "The global community has been hungry for a resource clearly outlining cost-effective, evidence-based solutions to prevent sexual violence against children and adolescents," she says.
Vatican Charity Knew in 2017 of Africa Sex Abuse Concerns
By NICOLE WINFIELD
(Associated Press) — The Vatican's Caritas Internationalis charity says it learned in 2017 of pedophilia concerns involving its Central African Republic director, but left it for his superiors to investigate and he remained in place and in ministry until this year.
CNN revealed the scandal over the Rev. Luk Delft this week, reporting that the Belgian Salesian priest was appointed to lead the Vatican's main charity in the poverty-stricken country despite a 2012 criminal conviction in Belgium for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.
CNN identified two new alleged victims in Central African Republic since he was posted there.
Michel Roy, former secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis from 2011-2019, said in a statement Saturday he didn't know about the criminal conviction until this year.
But he said he had been informed in 2017 by a therapist that Delft shouldn't be in contact with children.
“I informed Caritas CAR about the therapist's letter and asked them to ensure that the issue was followed up with his order,” Roy said in a statement. “I was told that the issue had been resolved.”
Bangui Archbishop Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga was in charge of Caritas Central African Republic at the time, and Delft was its country director. Roy relayed the concerns in the therapist's letter to Nzapalainga, who relayed them to the Salesians.
The letter contained information from a therapist who reported that a patient had “concerns” but not evidence of pedophilia involving Delft, and said he shouldn't be allowed to be around children given his past, said Andre Azzopardi, the head of safeguarding and integrity for Caritas Internationalis.
Azzopardi said the Salesians in 2017 informed Nzapalainga about the 2012 conviction, but he was left in his position, and in ministry, until the new Caritas Internationalis secretary-general was appointed this year. A new complaints committee reviewed the case, and Caritas Internationalis told Nzapalainga he should be removed, and he was soon thereafter.
“A person with this background should have never entered the Caritas family let alone be a director,” Azzopardi said. “Not enough was done in 2017.”
CNN identified two alleged victims of Delft's in Central African Republic, meaning he allegedly continued to abuse after he was sent to the country by the Salesians. He was appointed country director in 2015 by Nzapalainga. It wasn't clear what, if any, information the Salesians provided him about Delft's background at the time.
Roy said he had told Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis and the archbishop of Manila, what he planned to do with the therapist letter in 2017. But Roy said he didn't update Tagle “who considered then that the issue was resolved.”
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation and doesn't have the authority to appoint or fire staff at its autonomous national organizations, which are headed by national bishops' conferences.
In 2017, its policies were to inform those responsible for Delft's employment — in this case the Bangui archbishop and head of the Central African Republic bishops conference — and ensure the allegations were investigated.
New safeguarding policies were approved in 2018 at Caritas Internationalis, including the creation of a complaints committee and the appointment of Azzopardi as a safeguarding officer this year.
Azzopardi said a canonical investigation has been launched against Delft, as well as a criminal investigation.
Caritas ‘outraged' by child abuse scandal uncovered by CNN
Caritas Internationalis, a network of Catholic charitable organizations, urged its regional branches on Thursday to vet their staff and volunteers. It comes after CNN published an investigation into Father Luk Delft, a convicted abuser, who was moved to the Central African Republic by his religious order to work in a key role at the charity.
“We express our compassion and solidarity with the children and their families. We thank those who have come forward. They have our full support in telling their truth,” Aloysius John, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, said in a statement published on its website.
Delft, who had been convicted in Europe before going to work for the charity, has been accused of abusing at least two boys in the CAR.
The 50-year-old priest was only removed from the post after CNN revealed the new accusations against him to his superiors in the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order established specifically to protect children.
“Caritas Internationalis understands that those responsible have ensured that the accused is no longer in the Central African Republic, and both civil and religious authorities have been notified and are investigating the allegations,” the charity said.
It said it was assisting the local Caritas organization in CAR as it investigates the allegations.
“We thank those who have come forward. They have our full support in telling their truth. At Caritas, we are constantly working to improve our safeguarding of children both in the Central African Republic and in the rest of the world where Caritas works to help people in need. Our first duty is to protect those we serve,” the secretary general added.
Westpac scandal: a 12-year-old girl, online sexual exploitation and lax financial rules
The Westpac bank scandal has brought the role of financial institutions in enabling child sexual abuse into sharp relief
By Carmela Fonbuena
On 25 October plainclothes police barged through the red door of a family home in a dense neighbourhood in Rizal, a province two hours away from Manila.
There they arrested a mother who was allegedly sexually exploiting her own 12-year-old daughter. The 45-year-old woman was clutching her phone. Police took it and then handcuffed her.
A video provided by International Justice Mission (IJM), a global organisation fighting human trafficking that provided assistance to the police, shows the daughter nearby, her head covered by a towel, nodding at police. The rest of the family watched.
The mother did not deny her alleged crime, said Major Michael Virtudazo of the police Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (ATIP-D). He is confident a court inspection of her mobile phone will confirm information they had been given by a specialised police unit more than 6000km away in Australia.
What is Westpac accused of, and how is this related to child exploitation? – explainer
The woman had allegedly been live-streaming her daughter posing in sexual positions to customers abroad, in exchange for cash she received through a nearby money transfer business.
One of those customers is alleged to be an Australian from Sydney, who is accused of paying to watch her daughter.
Technological advances have turned the Phillipines, a traditional destination for traveling sex offenders, into a hub of live-streamed sexual abuse.
John Tanagho, IJM field director in the Philippines, said the country's robust money remittance infrastructure is one of the enabling factors that drive the crime – along with widespread internet access and the availability of cheap broadcast-capable mobile devices.
The same financial facility that millions of overseas Filipino workers use to easily send money back home has allowed sex offenders to pay for live-streamed content.
“Livestreaming online sexual exploitation of children is not unique to the Philippines but it is believed to be worse in the Philippines than other countries,” Tanagho told The Guardian.
“One more critical factor is people speak English well. They're able to communicate with the online sex offenders from Western countries who speak in English.”
Westpac probe exposes extent of problem
The Philippines has grappled with the problem for decades. It doesn't help that it has become a family business for some, making investigations difficult when children refuse to report their parents.
In poor villages in the country, many are drawn into the lucrative crime that could earn traffickers in one day what they would probably make earning minimum wage jobs for a month.
It is why the role of financial institutions is critical. “In the first place, the demand comes from other countries. We can stop production here if they are able to flag suspicious transactions abroad. If there is no demand, there is no supply,” Virtudazo said.
Tanagho said: “They can and they should detect red flags. When they detect red flags, they should, in reasonable fashion, cooperate with government agencies so that those traffickers and those offenders can be arrested and restrained after a proper law enforcement investigation.”
The extent of the problem was exposed in a legal action the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the government financial intelligence agency known as Austrac, launched against one of the country's biggest banks, Westpac, accusing it of legal breaches that allowed its customers to pay for child abuse undetected.
AFP investigates payments by Westpac customers allegedly linked to child exploitation
At a meeting on Friday afternoon, Westpac's board decided to appoint what it described as “independent experts” to investigate who was to blame for the breaches.
“The notion that any child has been hurt as a result of any failings by Westpac is deeply distressing and we are truly sorry,” chairman Lindsay Maxsted said in his first public statement since Austrac filed its lawsuit on Wednesday morning.
“The board unreservedly apologises.”
Austrac said Westpac failed to carry out appropriate due diligence on customers sending money to the Philippines and Southeast Asia for known child exploitation risks. The financial intelligence identified at least six Westpac customers with questionable transactions and a history of travel to the Philippines.
“In October 2014 and November 2014 Customer 1 transferred money to a person located in the Philippines who was later arrested in November 2015 for child trafficking and child exploitation involving live streaming of child sex shows and offering children for sex,” read Austrac's statement of claim. The customer transferred $136,000 to the Philippines between November 2013 and July this year and made travels to the Philippines in 2014 and 2016, according to the allegations.
Tanagho says a robust monitoring system is critical. “Banks around the world are monitoring suspicious transactions related to money laundering. In the same way banks and money transfer agencies should be monitoring suspicious transactions related to online sexual exploitation of children,” said Tanagho.
The arrest in Rizal was remarkable for a crime that is largely hidden, usually requiring police to take a deep dive into the dark corners of the internet.
In this case, it was dedicated work by groups in Sydney and cooperation between police in Australia and the Philippines that led to an arrest.
The investigation began in July when the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children referred to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation an Australian user who uploaded child abuse material to social media.
The Australian federal police commenced Operation Culgoa, resulting in the arrest of an unnamed 63-year-old Sydney man. A subsequent search of his home in the Sydney suburb of North Rocks showed electronic devices containing more child abuse materials that law enforcement would later trace to the town of Taytay in the Philippines.
The woman will face charges related to trafficking, child pornography, and cybercrime. The 63-year-old Sydney man appeared in the Parramatta local court on Friday.
The case highlights the importance of transnational cooperation. Virtudazo told the Guardian many of the successful arrests in the country stemmed from referrals made by other countries, allowing them to jumpstart investigations.
“Because it is a global crime, it requires a global response,” said Tanagho.
There's a lot of cooperation going on in the Philippines. In February this year, the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre was created as a hub for international law enforcement agencies to send referrals to the Philippines and allow local police to start an investigation.
But there are concerns, because technological advances are often a step ahead of law enforcement. Tanagho is particularly concerned with plans to have end-to-end encryption for messaging applications.
“It's everyone's collective responsibility to make it easier to detect crime and not harder to detect crime. It is important for technology companies to always to keep in mind protection of vulnerable children when they are designing their products,” he said.
What's the best way to fight child pornography?
By DAEMON FAIRLESS
Journalists aren't supposed to show cops much sympathy. We're thorns in one another's sides. Cops are servants of the oppressive forces journalists have vowed to fight, just as journalists are sensationalism-seeking muckrakers who put freedom of expression before security.
Or so the thinking goes.
I've never really subscribed to that school of thought, and my belief was reinforced over the past year as my colleagues and I worked on an investigative series about online child abuse, including some of the tactics police forces use to stop its proliferation. Our focus was an international operation that took down what was, at the time, the world's largest dark website – a forum called Child's Play. The site was built and run by a Canadian, Benjamin Faulkner, who went by the username “Warhead” and who had fashioned himself into a de facto kingpin of internet child pornography. He's now serving a life sentence in the United States for sexually assaulting a minor, along with a 35-year sentence for his online activities.
This is important, life-saving work that we all ought to understand better.
As I quickly learned researching this subject, “child pornography” is a euphemism. It obscures the fact that children are being abused – and often tortured – for the sexual gratification of adults. That's why the police, researchers and anyone else in the know call it what it is: child-abuse material. A more apt term may simply be crime-scene images. These are grotesque crimes that have severe and long-lasting consequences; a study by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection has found that 60 per cent of the victims of online child abuse have attempted suicide later in life.
At its peak, Child's Play had approximately a million registered users. And that's just one of countless sites. Online child abuse is growing at such a staggering rate that it's hard not to give up in despair. In 1998, the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) started its Cyber Tipline so that internet-service providers (and the public) could pass on instances of online child abuse to the appropriate law-enforcement agencies. For the first few years, NCMEC received about 10,000 reported cases a year. But that's been growing at a terrifying rate. In 2017, the tip line received 9.6 million reports. As of 2018, the total number was 42.9 million.
But there are people working to stop this. Over the past couple of decades, police efforts to infiltrate and take down online abuse sites – in particular sites on the dark web – have grown more sophisticated and more aggressive. And also more challenging.
One of the biggest challenges, as you might expect, is technical. Child-abuse material used to be traded primarily through the mail. This kept the size of the criminal network relatively stable – and, by today's standards, relatively small. The internet changed that entirely, and it took a long time for police forces to catch up. These new online networks were built by men (and it is almost entirely men) whose technical sophistication was light years beyond that of the police. In fact, in 2003 the then-head of the Toronto Police Service's child protection unit grew so frustrated with this divide that he sent an exasperated e-mail to Bill Gates asking for his help. (Remarkably, Mr. Gates sent a team from Microsoft. Their work was a foundational step that eventually allowed the police to catch up.)
The police are now generally as tech-savvy as the creators of these networks. Increasingly, police forces have their own dedicated child-protection units, each with their own dedicated tech experts. (Toronto's unit has come a long way since that e-mail to Mr. Gates and is now among the world's best). The technological challenge is now largely a cat-and-mouse game, with offenders continually developing new ways of sharing child-abuse material and the police perpetually trying to stay ahead of these developments.
But online child abuse is a borderless crime – a single site will attract members and administrators from across the world. Investigators have had to meet this challenge, too, which has meant reconfiguring how the police conceive of jurisdictions. The most successful investigative operations are the result of networks of municipal, regional and national police forces working together across traditional boundaries. These networks are built on tight-knit professional relationships (in addition to bureaucratic formalities), which allow an investigator in, say, Toronto to share information with colleagues in Brisbane or Manchester by simply picking up a phone. In essence, the best child-protection units across the globe have created a meta-jurisdiction. These relationships are further bolstered at conferences where investigators regularly come together to share tech know-how and the nitty-gritty of their undercover operations.
Some of this nitty-gritty is particularly gritty.
Mr. Faulkner, the creator of Child's Play, was arrested in 2016 by Homeland Security while in the U.S. and quickly gave up his passwords and encryption codes. Homeland Security then shared these passwords with Australia's Queensland Police Service – more specifically, its child-protection unit, Task Force Argos, a world leader in infiltrating and dismantling child-abuse sites. The Australian investigators quickly went into undercover mode. Their goal was to identify and rescue children who were being abused and to arrest the people doing the abuse. To do this, they had to mimic Mr. Faulkner's online avatar, “Warhead.”
Some of that mimicry involved ethical considerations most of us haven't thought about outside a Philosophy 101 course. As “Warhead,” Mr. Faulkner posted a so-called canary message every month to signal that he was still in charge of the site. The message always included a set of child-abuse images because Mr. Faulkner believed that the police couldn't legally post these images. However, Task Force Argos has the authority to do this, analogous to how undercover narcotics officers can sell or buy drugs.
Argos ran Child's Play for 11 months. It was part of a larger operation that, according to the Queensland police, “contributed to the removal of 83 children from sexual harm nationally and internationally” and led to the arrest of “200 child sex offenders on 1,254 criminal charges.” By all measures, a successful operation.
Despite this success, this type of operation isn't without its critics.
Ivar Stokkereit, one of UNICEF's legal advisers, was of the opinion that this was “a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though the police's intention [was] to prevent new offences in the long run.” This isn't an uncommon attitude.
It's true that the police maintained a site that promoted child sex abuse. And that they posted child-abuse images on the site. But consider the alternative: The police could have simply shut down Child's Play. It may be tidier, morally speaking. But shutting a site down does precious little in terms of actually reducing harm. All of the images traded on that site are squirrelled away on hard drives across the world. As soon as one site shuts down, another one pops up. Which means the images the police are using – the images that ostensibly violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – will almost certainly go directly back out into circulation anyway. More importantly, though, without keeping the sites alive, the police lose the ability to gather additional information that can lead to identifying and rescuing children.
This is a real-world example of that classic moral-philosophy exercise, the trolley problem: You're on a streetcar; the tracks fork ahead of you. On one set of the rails ahead, to the left, are four people; on the other set, two people. Do you pull the switch and go to the right, thus killing two people? Or do you remain passive and allow the trolley to continue on its way and kill four? That's more or less the position the police find themselves in. They choose a path that results in the least harm. Yes, it is dirty work. But it's absolutely necessary. In my view, not taking over and running these sites – even if it means posting child-abuse images – would actually be far more egregious.
Greater than any of these challenges, though, is the fact that all of this work is done at great personal expense. One story I've heard that exemplifies this is of a child-abuse investigator who became pregnant. She was looking forward to being a parent. But when it came time to name her unborn child, she had trouble settling on one. She couldn't think of a single name that she could not associate with an abused child whose case she had worked on.
Looking at images of children being tortured year after year will harm the most resilient of minds. Going undercover as a predatory child molester for months at a time warps your view of humanity. And yet, the best of these investigators have devoted decades of their lives to this work, despite the cost.
They do this because they know that the cost of not doing that work would be far, far greater.
Global Child Rights
CPFSA To Observe World Day For The Prevention Of Child Abuse Nov. 19
By JUDITH A. HUNTER
Several activities have been organised for the day, including a ‘Child Rights Village and Concert' at Emancipation Park, from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
On Tuesday, November 19, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), will join the rest of the world in observing World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse and the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Jamaica adopted the Convention 28 years ago.
Several activities have been organised for the day, including a ‘Child Rights Village and Concert' at Emancipation Park, from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Speaking with JIS News, Public Relations and Marketing Manager at the CPFSA, Rochelle Dixon, explained that the decision to have a Child Rights Village, instead of a vigil, is to place special emphasis on the Rights of the Child, in alignment with the UNCRC anniversary.
Child Rights and Child Abuse Prevention talks will also be conducted in select schools islandwide as part of the CPFSA's effort to educate children of their rights.
There will be a special remembrance ceremony for children who have died under tragic circumstances from October 2018 to the present. This will follow the launch of the National Plan of Action for Violence against Children, which is the highlight of the day's activities. Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Karl Samuda, will bring closing remarks.
Several agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will set up booths at the village, including the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Registrar General's Department (RGD), and others.
“The events scheduled for the day are a continuation of the CPFSA's ‘Every Child Deserves Protection' Campaign'. We are mandated to protect the children from harm and ensure their well-being at all times,” Miss Dixon said. The day's activities will culminate with a concert, featuring performances from Rondell Positive, Tranquil and others.
Legal breaches allowed Westpac customers to pay for child sexual abuse undetected, Austrac alleges
Agency alleges Westpac failed to monitor 12 customers who made transactions consistent with child exploitation typologies
By Ben Butler
Westpac's failure to obey anti-money laundering and counter-terror finance laws allowed a customer to make payments to a person in the Philippines who was later arrested for child sex trafficking and livestreaming child sexual abuse, the financial intelligence agency alleges.
The allegation is just one of more than 23 million breaches of the law – involving more than $11bn in transactions – the bank is accused of in a federal court lawsuit filed by Austrac on Wednesday.
During a hastily called teleconference with reporters on Wednesday afternoon the Westpac boss, Brian Hartzer, said he was “disgusted and appalled” by the allegations, but said he would not resign.
“As CEO of Westpac I am very sorry this has happened and we will fix it,” he said.
“I will be personally leading our response to all of these issues.”
In a sign Westpac will not fight Austrac in court, he said he accepted the allegations in a statement of claim filed by the regulator “almost overwhelmingly”.
He refused to estimate how much the bank will have to pay to settle the lawsuit, but based on previous cases it is likely to run into the billions of dollars.
Documents filed by Austrac with the court paint a picture of a bank that for years has failed to take money laundering and terror finance risks seriously, despite executives flagging concerns since at least 2016.
In its most serious allegations, Austrac accuses Westpac of failing to monitor a dozen customers who made frequent transactions that were “consistent with child exploitation typologies”.
These typologies involve “customers with no apparent family ties to the Philippines/south-east Asia, frequently remitting small sums of money to multiple beneficiaries in the Philippines/south-east Asia within short timeframes,” Austrac said in its statement of claim.
Austrac alleges that more than 3,000 payments totalling almost $500,000 went undetected by Westpac for years, even though six of the customers repeatedly travelled to the Phillipines or other destinations in south-east Asia.
Payments that should have been detected were being made as recently as two months ago, it said.
The regulator said “Customer 1”, who paid money to the person later arrested for child trafficking and exploitation, transferred $136,000 to the Philippines between November 2013 and July this year, when Westpac finally detected the payments.
It said Customer 1's bank account also showed he travelled to the Philippines in 2014 and 2016.
“In October 2014 and November 2014 Customer 1 transferred money to a person located in the Philippines who was later arrested in November 2015 for child trafficking and child exploitation involving live streaming of child sex shows and offering children for sex,” Austrac said in the statement of claim.
“Had Westpac been appropriately monitoring for frequent low value transactions consistent with child exploitation typologies in 2014, these transactions would have come to its attention.”
Austrac does not name the recipients in its court documents, but the November 2015 date approximately coincides with Philippines authorities busting two child exploitation rings, one run by the Australian child rapist Peter Scully, and another run by Filipino women Lyan Tandeg and Shellina Nisperos.
Hartzer declined to answer when asked if any of the money went to Scully or his associates.
“We don't have visibility about whether or not particular crimes have happened, that's a matter for the regulator,” he said.
“I can't comment on any individuals as part of that.”
Austrac alleges that in 2017 another customer, “Customer 3”, transferred money to a suspected “child exploitation facilitator” in the Philippines.
The bank also failed to conduct “enhanced due diligence” in relation to “Customer 12”, who “had a prior conviction for child exploitation offences”, the regulator said.
Hartzer said he learned of the specific allegations against the customers when he read Austrac's court documents on Wednesday morning.
“I was, like everyone I'm sure, utterly horrified at what I read and am absolutely determined to get to the bottom of why on earth this was allowed to persist for a period of time and make sure that we close it off,” he said.
Many of the transactions took place through a system called LitePay. Austrac said Westpac had been aware of the child exploitation risks relating to LitePay since 2013 but did not fix them until June 2018.
This was even though by May 2016 “Westpac itself had assessed the heightened child exploitation risks associated with low value payments to the Philippines through LitePay and other channels”.
Westpac introduced an automated system supposed to identify suspect payments in August 2016, but by the end of February 2017 the bank knew it had failed to trigger, Austrac said.
It said Westpac didn't set up an appropriate monitoring system for LitePay until June last year and today still lacks detection methods for other payment channels.
Hartzer said Austrac discovered the payments as part of an investigation the regulator launched after Westpac reported itself for other AML-CTF breaches last year.
Austrac also accuses Westpac of failing to properly assess the risk in dealing with correspondent banks with which it did business.
Some of these banks in turn had “nested relationships with other correspondent banks including in sanctioned or high-risk jurisdictions” including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Ukraine and Zimbabwe, Austrac said.
Austrac also said that between November 2013 and September 2018, Westpac failed to give it reports within the 10 days required by law about almost three-quarters of the incoming fund transfers it received from overseas banks – some 19.5m transactions totalling more than $11bn.
In addition, the bank failed to file timely reports about more than 12,000 outbound transactions, including more than 2,300 sent through LitePay where “Westpac has never given Austrac a report of each of these instructions”, Austrac said.
Westpac faces a theoretical maximum fine of between $391tn and $483tn, but it is unlikely to be ordered to pay anywhere near that amount.
Last year rival big four bank CBA agreed to pay Austrac $700m to settle a similar action against it in which the regulator alleged more than 53,000 breaches of AML-CTF laws. Given the larger scale of the infringements, the payment Westpac could be facing is likely to be much higher.
“There are a number of established principles by which the court will decide the penalty, and we will wait and see how that plays out,” Hartzer said.
He denied there was a culture of indifference to AML-CTF risks among senior management.
“I agree and accept the findings of the statement of claim almost overwhelmingly – clearly we've got to accept that and deal with it,” he said.
“There's one thing I do take issue with and that is the suggestion that at least at a senior executive level or a board level that we have been indifferent.
“We've absolutely not been indifferent on this topic and we have made quite a number of changes over time to the leadership in risk and the leadership in financial crime.”
The Austrac lawsuit is the biggest challenge yet for a bank already mired in controversy and part of a financial sector that has endured years of scandal that reached a climax at last year's royal commission.
Earlier this month it was forced to cut its dividend to shareholders for the first time since the global financial crisis after profit fell 15%, driven down by $1bn in remediation costs to compensate customers ripped off by its financial planners and overcharged on loans.
It is also at the centre of a political stoush over responsible lending standards after the corporate regulator provoked outrage from government backbenchers by deciding to appeal a court ruling dubbed the “wagyu and shiraz” decision.
Sharemarket trade on Wednesday showed investors did not recognise the Austrac lawsuit as an existential threat, with the company's stock falling about 3.3% to close the day at $25.67.
Cardinal Pell granted final bid to challenge sexual abuse verdict
Cardinal George Pell will be allowed a final chance to challenge his child sexual abuse convictions, Australia's top court has ruled.
Pell was granted leave to appeal the verdict in the High Court of Australia.
The ex-Vatican treasurer, 78, is currently serving a six-year jail term for abusing two boys in a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.
He lost his first challenge against his convictions in August and has consistently maintained his innocence.
Pell is the most high-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of child sexual abuse.
Last December, a jury unanimously found him guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in St Patrick's Cathedral, when he was the city's archbishop.
The convictions include one count of sexual penetration and four counts of committing indecent acts.
Pell unsuccessfully challenged the verdict in Victoria's Court of Appeal in August , when a panel of three judges ruled against him 2-1.
They rejected the cleric's argument that the jury's verdict had been unfair and had relied unreasonably on the testimony of one victim.
'The little people have won': Activists react to Cardinal Pell appeal decision
Video caption 'The little people have won': Activists react to Cardinal Pell appeal decision
Pell will now argue the judges erred in their decision on those grounds.
His appeal will be heard next year in the High Court of Australia, where a ruling will be made by a majority of seven judges.
This will be the final ruling on the case and it cannot be further challenged.
Pell's case has rocked the Catholic Church and he was demoted from the Pope's inner circle last year.
The Vatican has faced calls for Pell to be defrocked, but it has said the cleric has the right to pursue all legal appeals.
Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver report reveals 36 sexual abuse cases since 1950
A new report released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver reveals 36 cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s. The church is promising to change how it addresses sexual abuse.
By Marcella Bernardo
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – An internal investigation by the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver has found 36 cases of sexual abuse dating back to 1950.
According to a new report, the church identified 26 cases of sexual assault of children in Vancouver over the last 70 years, and another 10 cases of “consensual” relationships between adults that were “likely to be abusive” because of the imbalance of power.
Nine priests have been convicted or accused of abuse, but privacy laws prevent the release of any other names.
Paul J. Blancard, George Gordon, John McCann, Harold McIntee and Alfred Frank Louis Sasso have been convicted, but not all of them have spent time in prison.
Two men – Lawrence Edward Damian Cooper and Antero Sarmiento – were the focus of lawsuits now settled. Other public cases named Edwin Budiman and John Eason.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller says it has taken the Catholic Church too long to address abuse, and calls on victims to come forward and report any further cases of abuse.
“Even though the brutality of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is a widespread tragedy that affects every corner of society, it has taken the Catholic Church around the world far too long to address its particularly devastating consequences when that abuse is perpetrated by a priest, whom the faithful hold in a position of trust,” he writes in the report.
In September, the Archdiocese of Vancouver implemented an anonymous phone tip line to report abuse.
Recommendations to stop abuse
A committee formed in October 2018 to study sexual abuse in the church makes 31 recommendations to “take concrete steps to prevent abuse, address it when it happens, and prevent cover-ups from ever happening again.”
Those recommendations include better training for staff to prevent abuse, storing all files in a central location and setting up a victim support office early next year, and mandatory performance reviews for all priests. It also calls for a Canada-wide registry for any clergy credibly accused of abuse.
The Archbishop is promising to implement these recommendations.
Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse
Archbishop apologizes for ‘trauma' and ‘betrayal'
In a letter that is included in the report and will be read out to parishioners in all Catholic churches in Greater Vancouver this weekend, Miller apologizes for the trauma suffered by at least 26 children betrayed by the church.
“I realize that no expression of regret can repair the horror of what happened. Although nothing can undo the wrong that was done to you, I nonetheless wish to offer each of you my heartfelt apology for the trauma, the violation in body and soul, and the sense of betrayal and abandonment by the Church that you feel. For those occasions when we failed to protect you or when we were more concerned with the Church's reputation than with your suffering, I am truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness as I strive to make amends and bind your wounds,” Miller says.
Abuse victim says recommendations aren't enough
The victim of abuse by priest John McCann, one of the nine priests named in the report, says she's not convinced the report's recommendations go far enough.
“A child being abused today, for them to speak out, is really, really difficult – very, very frustrating. I feel like it's been a persistent effort on behalf of survivors to move to this place,” says Leona Huggins.
Huggins, who is no longer a practicing Catholic, was a parishoner in New Westminster in the mid-1970s when she was abused.
She says McCann later turned up at a church on Saltspring Island.
“He was not monitored. We left it in the hands of a survivor to continue to monitor him,” she says. “He died last year, but I'm convinced that had I not done the work that I did to find out where he was and let people know, he would have still been there until his dying day.”
Huggins is also a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Pennsylvanians to get more time on sex abuse charges, suits
By MARK SCOLFORO
HARRISBURG, Pa. --
The state where a grand jury's groundbreaking report set off a new wave of reckoning over sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church passed legislation Thursday giving victims more time to sue and police more time to file charges.
The Pennsylvania House sent the statute-of-limitations bill to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf with a 182-5 vote, along with a measure that invalidates secrecy agreements in lawsuit settlements that prevent child sexual abuse victims from talking to investigators.
“This has been a long and trying process, and we are finally at the finish line,” the statute-of-limitations bill's prime champion, Berks County Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi, told fellow lawmakers. “Justice is coming.”
Wolf's office said he intends to sign the bills and a third measure that increases and clarifies penalties for mandated reporters who do not report suspected child abuse.
Spokesman J.J. Abbott said Wolf “thanks the brave victims that made these changes possible by sharing their stories and fighting for justice.”
A fourth piece of legislation has also passed both chambers, a proposed state constitutional amendment to give now-adult victims of child sexual abuse a two-year window to sue abusers and institutions. The amendment must pass the House and Senate again in the 2021-22 session before going to voters in an election.
Victims of past abuse should be able to hold accountable institutions that covered up or enabled crimes against children, said Rep. Tom Murt, R-Montgomery.
“It's time to open the window,” Murt said during floor debate. “We need to open the window and allow the light of truth to shine in this dark place. Anything less is justice denied.”
Rozzi's bill would put an end to any statute of limitations, in future cases, for the criminal prosecution of major child sexual abuse crimes. The current law limits it to the victim's 50th birthday.
Authorities would have up to 20 years to file charges in sexual abuse cases where young adults 18-23 years old are the victims, as opposed to 12 years after the crime for victims over 17 in current law.
For lawsuits, victims would have until they turn 55 to sue, as opposed to age 30 under current law, and young adults ages 18-23 would have until age 30 to use, whereas existing law gives them only two years.
Governmental institutions, such as public schools, would lose immunity from lawsuits for child sexual abuse if the person suing was harmed by the negligence of the institution.
One of the no votes on the statute-of-limitations bill, Indiana County Republican Rep. Cris Dush, said his opposition was related to the changes in lawsuits. Dush said he was concerned about a flood of litigation based on allegations that could be too old to effectively defended against.
“In these cases, there are a number of law firms out there that are very willing to go out and hammer certain organizations that otherwise have been doing very good work for our constituents,” Dush said.
Since the investigative grand jury report was issued in August 2018, Pennsylvania dioceses have launched compensation funds and have been reporting the number and amount of settlements.
The report said that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests had sexually abused Pennsylvania children over seven decades and that church officials helped covered it up.
About two dozen states changed their laws on statutes of limitations this year.
The Indian godman, who could safe keep Bill Gates's wealth for the next life, flees after child abuse charge
By Manavi Kapur
One of its most colourful and talked-about godmen has reportedly fled India under a cloud of intrigue and scandal.
However, Nithyananda will remain the subject of a heated yet mirthful discourse for some time, given the reputation he has built for himself over the past few years, especially the criminal affairs he was allegedly involved in. The ascetic has been accused of kidnapping and abusing children at his ashram (the residential and ritual precinct of Hindu godmen and women) in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. The police now say he has fled the country.
The 41-year-old spiritualist joins the ranks of other such “godmen”—Asaram Bapu, Rampal, and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan—all charged with serious sexual offences in recent years. And, interestingly, all strong proponents of pseudo-science “miracles.”
From claims of getting animals to talk in human language to taking up the safekeeping of Bill Gates's wealth till the tech billionaire is reborn in the future, Nithyananda's antics and claims have evoked ridicule among millions of Indians. Yet, he also heads an empire worth billions of rupees, according to media reports, and commands a huge following of devotees and fans.
The cherubic guru views himself as manifestation of god—and claims to wield all the attending powers. Yet, this isn't his first brush with unholy acts.
The holy healer and sex
Born on Jan. 1, 1978, in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Nithyananda was originally named Rajasekaran.
According to Nithyananda's website, he trained as a mechanical engineer before joining the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in 1995, choosing the spiritual path reportedly under his grandfather's influence.
In 2003, Nithyananda decided to enter active public life, setting up the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam in Bidadi, near Bengaluru. He claims to be a spiritual healer who can cure a range of diseases from depression to cancer.
However, it wasn't his healing power that propelled him into national prominence first. It was sex, apparently.
In 2010, television news channels telecast video recordings from a hidden camera, featuring him and his disciple, film star Ranjitha, in what was seen as amorous acts. Both Nithyananda and Ranjitha claimed the video clips were morphed.
The godman was officially charged with rape following allegations made by some of his other female followers. He surrendered before the Bengaluru police in 2012. The then chief minister, DV Sadananda Gowda, nicknamed Nithyananda “sex swami” and ordered his ashram shut down.
Not much was heard of Nithyanand after that for a long time. But he did lurk there, somewhere below the surface.
He reportedly would make his followers sign contracts of indemnity. The NewsMinute reported that these were nothing but “sex contracts” and non-disclosure agreements, purportedly giving him a free rein packaged as “imparting wisdom.” As reported by the news platform, one clause in the “agreement” was particularly alarming:
Volunteer understands that the Program may involve the learning and practice of ancient tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, including the use of sexual energy for increased intimacy/spiritual connection, pleasure, harmony, and freedom. Volunteer understands that these activities could be physically and mentally challenging, and may involve nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions, and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity, close physical proximity and intimacy, verbal and written descriptions and audio sounds of a sexually oriented, and erotic nature, etc.
Yet, the number of his followers doesn't seem to have ebbed.
A few years ago, videos began to emerge on social media, especially YouTube, showcasing a visibly changed Nithyananda. He had put on weight and was positioned on a rotating throne amidst an unabashed set of followers who sang his praise. The man himself acted like god in some videos, spreading his benevolence in spurts—so what if they were computer graphics for the benefit of internet users.
I, me, myself—and Bill Gates
Going by his videos and sermons, Nithyananda's forte is miracles, false equivalences, and gibberish on science and energy—all expressed in English, Tamil, and Sanskrit, and accompanied by a crescendo of conch-blowing and rumbling drums every time he mouthed inanities.
The following examples give a quick peep into Nithyananda's inexplicable world.
In a freewheeling chat with the godman, Rajiv Malhotra, a self-styled scholar of Hinduism, discusses Nithyananda's thoughts on the possibility of transferring one's current wealth to the next life (Bill Gates be warned).
Nithyananda also strongly believes Albert Einstein got his equation on energy and matter all wrong.
Some videos show him as a sparkling figure emanating the “energy” he often talks about.
A few days ago, he tweeted about “enlightening” children.
All that time, he was being accused of child abuse.
Advocacy group urges changes to Catholic abuse review boards
By MARGARET STAFFORD
KANSAS CITY, Mo. --
The bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Roman Catholic diocese, who was recently appointed chairman-elect of the U.S. Catholic church's national committee for protecting abuse victims, should lead an effort to change boards that review abuse allegations to make them more transparent, inclusive and willing to publicly identify predator priests, an advocacy group said Friday.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a letter to Bishop James Johnston Jr., Friday criticizing the current methods of the review boards, which were mandated in dioceses across the country in 2002 after allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests began to surface. Johnston was appointed last week as chairman-elect of the church's Committee on Protection of Children and Young People, although he won't become chairman for a year.
SNAP was reacting to an Associated Press report on Thursday that found the review boards repeatedly failed to support abuse victims and to oust abusive priests. Instead, review boards appointed by bishops and operating in secrecy often intimidate victims, reject sex abuse claims and help the church avoid payouts, the AP reported.
“In fact, we believe the flaws identified in the AP report are not accidental, isolated ‘mistakes' or ‘oversights.' You, your brother bishops and church lawyers are smart,” the letter said. “These panels, we believe are set up largely to help with public relations and legal defense. They are deliberately given little power or access to information. The goal is to give the appearance of change, rather than making actual change. Again, you can and must remedy this.”
The group suggested several changes, including requiring at least two abuse victims on each panel; making the board members' names public; including at least two non-Catholics on each board; guaranteeing each victim gets to meet with a board; no lawyers representing the church as members; term limits for each board member and “greater honesty” about how the boards operate.
Carrie Cooper, who has directed the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection since 2011, disputed SNAP's characterization of the boards, although she said she could speak only for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. She said the board hears from any victim who has made an accusation and any priest accused and that it includes members who have careers related to child protection, such as law enforcement, counselors and attorneys, as well as one priest to help answer questions about church doctrine and practices.
“I have found them to be such a wise body,” Cooper said. “The bishop and our investigators rely on their expertise and wisdom. Having people invested in helping children only helps the church in the evaluation of these cases. And it helps the bishop.”
Larry Davis, a SNAP member who was handing out information Friday in front of the diocesan headquarters in Kansas City, said the AP report validated what many SNAP members have said for years — that the church is more concerned about protecting its public image than it is about helping abuse victims. Davis, 66, of Kansas City, said the group doesn't expect real changes to be made to the boards until parishioners begin demanding more transparency from the church.
“We want them to make changes because they want to rather than because they are forced into it by bad publicity,” Davis said. “It is so hard for victims to find peace. Right now, they really have no place to go.
East Kent mum speaks of daughter's abuse at father's hands and help from NSPCC's Letting the Future In
By Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The suspicions of reception class teachers led to a little girl revealing the tragic reasons behind her concerning behaviour at school.
Angela was sat in the car park of a shopping centre when her phone rang, an unknown number flashing up on the screen.
It was social services, saying they were concerned her daughter - then aged seven - was possibly being sexually abused.
They had been alerted by her primary school, where teachers were worried about her “sexualised behaviour”.
But for Angela, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, the thought of her daughter being an abuse victim was incomprehensible.
“I told them ‘that's ridiculous - I never leave her with anyone',” she recalls. “I said ‘you're talking rubbish. I would know. I know my child. There's absolutely no way that could happen'.”
Angela's daughter had displayed erratic behaviour since she started school.
Teachers told Angela, who lives in east Kent, how she was caught in the school toilets, asking other girls to look at their private parts.
She told Ava - whose name has also been changed - that the behaviour was inappropriate, but six months later it happened again.
It was initially put down to childhood curiosity, but when it continued into Year Two the school alerted social services and Angela received that fateful call.
No investigation was launched, but when a few months later Ava was caught in the bathroom with another girl, Angela knew she had to speak with her daughter once more.
That evening they sat down together.
“I said ‘nobody should be asking to look at anybody's private parts - you shouldn't be asking and nobody should be asking you',” Angela remembers.
“And she just said ‘daddy did'.
"She realised she could just get it out and that I believed her..."
“She started crying, and said ‘but I didn't let him, he made me, I couldn't stop him'. I was so shell-shocked.
“I said ‘you haven't done anything wrong, and this isn't going to happen again'.
“Once she started telling me she couldn't stop. She realised she could just get it out and that I believed her.”
Angela called the police and a specialist officer was sent round the following day to interview Ava.
Gradually, over the coming weeks, she revealed more about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father, who was in an on-off relationship with her mum but lived elsewhere.
Angela was appalled to learn the majority of the abuse took place in her own home.
“In the evenings she'd have a bath then I'd have a bath, and he would sit and watch television with her,” she explained.
“That was generally when the abuse happened, or sometimes when she was in the bath and I was preparing dinner.
“There were a couple of occasions when I did go out and left him with her.
“Her dad would tell her it's OK, it's perfectly normal, and not to tell anyone.
“Obviously a child's not going to understand that that's not right. Particularly from someone they trust.”
"I now can't bear to see men with children. I hate it. I just think everybody's being abused..."
Angela first met Ava's dad at a local nightclub and had been in an on-and-off relationship with him for the seven years since.
“He wasn't a very reliable person, was always in and out of jobs, drank too much, and wasn't somebody I particularly wanted to be with,” she said.
“Ava was always pleased to see him. I always felt that she loved him and she wanted to see him and was happy when he was coming around.”
Angela says she constantly reflects on those years.
“I think how did I not see that?” she says. “How did I not understand her behaviour? Why did I let him anywhere near us? Why didn't she tell me?
“I now can't bear to see men with children. I can't see a dad cuddling his child, holding hands with a child; I hate it. I just think everybody's being abused.
“It's an awful thing to have going around your head all the time.”
A couple of days after Ava told her mum of the abuse, her dad was arrested and released on bail for what would turn out to be six months.
Angela says Ava was so terrified he was going to come and get her, school caretakers had to show the frightened little girl the gates were locked.
“She's slept in my bed ever since,” said Angela.
"I feel like she's been robbed of a normal childhood. It's not even a childhood - this is going to be her whole life"
“She is still convinced he's going to break out of prison and get her, or that people he knows will come and get her.”
Ava's father was charged but denied everything, forcing his daughter to bravely give evidence against him in court.
He was found guilty and handed a lengthy prison sentence.
“When Ava found out, her first words were: ‘is that my fault?',” Angela recalls.
“She was relieved but felt guilty. In her mind she'd put her father in prison, which is an awful thing for a child to have to think.”
Ava is now 11, and is still profoundly affected by the trauma, which has left her deeply afraid and anxious.
“It's completely devastated her life,” Angela says. “It's taken over everything. I don't know what child she would be now if this hadn't happened.
“She doesn't like going out when it's dark, she's scared in the house. She will follow me from room to room, won't go to the toilet on her own, won't let me go to the toilet on my own.
“She's not slept in her bed now for years. She used to go to my bed and I'd be able to go up later, but it's got worse. I actually have to go to bed with her now.
“She literally can't bear to be apart from me when we're here.”
Angela says she believes the psychological effects of Ava's abuse will stay with her for a lifetime.
“I feel like she's been robbed of a normal childhood,” she says. “It's not even a childhood - this is going to be her whole life.
“Hopefully as she gets older the trauma will become a smaller and smaller part of her life. But it is never going to go away.
“And that's horrible. That's an awful thing to live with.
“I will never know the person she would have been without this.”
Help is at hand
After her father was jailed Ava's behaviour quickly deteriorated but she was not signposted towards any sources of support.
It was only when her mum began scouring the internet for help that she stumbled across the NSPCC's Letting the Future In programme.
The organisation soon sent someone out to meet Ava, before inviting her in for a course of weekly sessions.
Each Wednesday, they would drive from east Kent to the nearest NSPCC centre in Gillingham, where they received invaluable support.
“Ava didn't want to talk about what had happened at all,” Angela explained. “She just wanted to play.
“It was making her deal with feelings she didn't want to deal with - she'd much rather put them in a box at the back of her head and lock them away.
“But I knew it was really important for her to get help as early on as possible. She still needs support and will for a long time to come. I had sessions as well.
"You see it on the news, in the papers, and you think 'that won't happen to me''
“I haven't confided in a lot of friends, and I don't like to worry my parents about it. It's not something you can chat in the playground to other mums about. I felt really isolated.
“So it was nice to have someone I could sit with and be
completely honest with, and say ‘you know what, things are awful, I'm really struggling with her'.
“You just have to pretend the rest of the time, and Ava must feel exactly the same.
“But to have that one hour a week where we didn't have to pretend was really helpful.
“In an ideal world, there would be these amazing NSPCC centres in every town, because there will be a lot of parents who aren't able to take that journey.
“It's not easily accessible to everybody, and it should be.”
Angela says she feels more parents should be aware of the realities of child abuse.
“You see it on the news, in the papers, and you think ‘that won't happen to me'. ‘I would know, I know my child, and it's going to be some dirty old man in the park'.
“That's rubbish. They're nearly always a family member - someone you trust.”
"It has devastated Ava's life"
Angela also urges other parents of abuse survivors to try the Letting the Future In programme.
“Just get that help,” she said.
“People always say children are resilient, children bounce back.
“That's total rubbish - children are sponges and they soak up everything. They can be so easily damaged and need every bit of support you can find them.
“It's heartbreaking to think there are children who've been through what Ava has and nobody helps them afterwards.
"Because it's the worst thing in the world, and it has devastated Ava's life, and I wish I could stop it happening ever again.”
Letting the Future In
Reports of sexual abuse have increased by 144% in Kent in the last four years, with 3,257 offences recorded in 2018/19.
The NSPCC's Letting the Future In programme is aimed at victims aged between four and 17 whose abuse has been investigated by either the police or by social workers.
Over the course of 20 to 30 sessions, children start to come to terms with their emotions. Therapy rooms are filled with dolls houses, sensory toys, puppets, a sandpit, and arts and craft materials, which are all used as tools to get children talking.
The programme is delivered at the NSPCC's centre in Gillingham, which is the only one in the county.
One of its advanced practitioners said: “They are not asked to talk about the abuse directly, so it's working on the things that impacted on them.
“Overall, the things that we see are a decrease in anger, anxiety and depression, better sleep patterns, a reduction in self-harming.
US / Canada
Why we need to gather data on child sex trafficking
The urgent need to find a “hidden” crime
By ABBIE NEWMAN and WALT HUNTER
Yellow crime scene tape. Bullet holes. Street corner memorials with Teddy bears and personal pictures. Constant reminders of the scars and pain left behind by crime seem to be at every turn.
Instant statistics and years of data provide precise numbers of murders, shootings, rapes, robberies, assaults and almost every other atrocious felony.
Because there is one terrible crime that, just like the sneakiest criminal, somehow stays hidden, year after year, defying detection. It is a crime that imprisons its victims, warping and stealing their innocence.
It is child sex trafficking.
Children are lured, coerced, and sometimes violently abducted by predators who manipulate their vulnerabilities with meticulous skill. Like malignant tumors, the trafficking networks grow — silent, unseen and undetected — while society carries on perceiving sex trafficking as an overseas issue.
A click of your mouse can tell you how many people have been shot, murdered or robbed. But the number of child sex trafficking victims? No one knows and, based on the lack of current studies, few seem to care.
We have only vague estimates, blurry statistical snapshots from a handful of rapidly aging studies. One analysis, “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico” by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania quoted by experts, puts the number of children at risk between 244,000 and 325,000. Almost as scary as the numbers, the date of that study is 2002 —17 years ago, and it's still being cited in the absence of new research.
Anyone who has watched a single episode of “CSI” knows how solving a crime supposedly works. First, investigators answer the call, process the scene and then use evidence to catch the suspects. But with child sex trafficking, it's more like the Bermuda Triangle. How many children? Who are they? When, where and how were they taken?
Somehow, in the statistically bloated world of law enforcement, it's all a mystery. No agencies, no studies have even begun to put their arms around this terrible crime, to determine just how big it really is.
It's just common sense: If we don't know the extent of the crime network, we won't save most victims or catch most criminals. As a society, we seemingly don't choose to invest the time and money needed to uncover, for the first time, just how massive child sex trafficking really is. While we doze, the severity of this issue just grows larger.
It's grimly ironic that people who devour the latest headlines on manhunts for missing and abducted children seem to largely ignore or deny the fact that child sex trafficking is affecting our own communities.
How big has it grown? How many children's lives are destroyed each day? No one knows and, quite honestly, far too few appear to care.
Many, but not all, of these victims have suffered from child sexual abuse in the past or have been shunted throughout the foster care system, with unstable family situations.
A study in 2015 by Jennifer Cole and Ginny Sprang and another in 2016 by Lisa Fedina, Celia Williamson and Tasha Perdue did take a stab at why no one can tell us the information we desperately need to know. Summarizing: “Due to a dearth of empirical research … the lack of the use of sound research methods … and the way the crime can be concealed … reliable estimates of sex trafficking of children remain elusive.”
Elusive? In our view, they are virtually nonexistent. For now, there are no definitive numbers, no sense of the boundaries of this atrocity, or, most critically, how fast it is expanding.
There are only the silent screams of victims. One by one, they vanish. Numbers unknown and untold. No one would ever dare to say “they don't count.”
So why, with all urgency, aren't we counting?
In order to solve this problem, we must first acknowledge its existence and severity. We all have the power to combat this issue and raise awareness, one victim at a time. Make it your mission to know and recognize the signs indicating a child is a target of predators. These warnings, available on MissionKidsCAC.org, include psychological and physical conditions ranging from anxiety and paranoia to skin tattoos branding the victim as the traffickers' "property".
Fighting Online Child Sex Abuse
Readers including UNICEF, law enforcement and a child advocate respond to an article in our “Exploited” series.
F. and E. were sexually abused as children. A digital trail of the crimes continues to haunt the sisters a decade later.
To the Editor:
“Child Sex Abusers Elude Flimsy Digital Safeguards” (“Exploited” series, front page, Nov. 10) should be a wake-up call for the tech industry. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind “privacy laws” when the health, well-being and future of so many children and young people are at stake.
Now is the time for tech companies to put the safety of children first and own up to their responsibility in ending sexual exploitation and the abuse of children online. They must use their position and resources to invest in the technological solutions that identify and promptly take down abusive material, as well as work with national and international law enforcement to put in place robust reporting processes and legal accountability.
No child should be exposed to the perpetual cycle of abuse and trauma that the article describes.
The writer is executive director of UNICEF.
To the Editor:
Your article highlights how certain decisions now being made unilaterally by top technology companies will enable despicable child pornographers to evade detection and arrest.
The internet created a new foothold for the production and trading of child pornography. Now, as sophisticated encryption capabilities are being made available to customers of messaging apps and social media companies, these vile criminals will be able to conduct business undetected.
High-profile companies like Facebook and Apple have flatly stated that they plan no accommodation for law enforcement access to encrypted communications, calling it a “back door” that should not be allowed. Court-ordered surveillance is not a back door; it is a time-honored and legitimate right of government to protect the citizenry.
Law enforcement agencies have instead turned to the private sector, where innovative workarounds to break through encryption to obtain criminal communications are being developed. We are fortunate such private industry initiatives exist.
These tools have already played a critical role in rescuing victims of sex trafficking, thwarting international terrorist attacks and keeping children safe.
The tug of war between protecting legitimate privacy and eradicating heinous criminality is certainly worthy of healthy debate. But what is not debatable is the need for leading-edge technology that can remove the canopy of encryption when children's lives are at risk.
Promoting privacy shouldn't mean that criminals are free to operate unchecked in secrecy. And such determinations should not be the sole purview of large technology companies.
Kevin R. Brock,
The writer, a former F.B.I. assistant director for intelligence, is the founder and principal of a consultancy to companies that sell technology for investigations and intelligence gathering to the government.
To the Editor:
There are steps the government and the public can press for now to get tech companies to be more effective in shutting down child pornography.
First, it is not enough to simply pull down these images when they are reported. Tech platforms should also pass on internet provider addresses and payment information to law enforcement so more perpetrators can be found and prosecuted offline.
Second, Congress must scale back the sweeping legal immunity in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that prevents abuse victims from seeking justice. That would give tech companies a greater incentive to develop technologies that work for victims, not against them.
The Trump administration should stop its trade representative from including these flawed, dangerous immunities in trade agreements, to prevent this abuse from simply shifting abroad. If it is illegal offline, it should be illegal online.
Finally, we must continue to name and shame the companies for their role in this utter moral disgrace.
The writer is executive director of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.
'They're kids': Expert on human trafficking speaks about victims, prevention in Thunder Bay
Average age of entry into the sex trade in Canada is 12 to 14 years old, says former MP Joy Smith
By Joy Smith
A Canadian expert on human trafficking wants people in Thunder Bay, and across northwestern Ontario, to understand that any child anywhere could be lured into the sex trade at any time.
The average age of entry into the sex trade in Canada is between 12 and 14 years old, said Joy Smith, who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Winnipeg riding of Kildonan–St. Paul from 2004 to 2015 and established the Joy Smith Foundation (JSF) to combat human trafficking in 2011.
"All 12 to 14-year-olds are vulnerable because they're kids. They haven't lived life and they believe people who are friendly to them and trying to be their friends and the traffickers are very skilled ... they're trying to get the victim to work for them, and separate them from all their support systems," such as family, friends, and favourite activities, she said.
Traffickers prefer 'middle-class virgins'
Research done by the JSF suggests 93 per cent of Canada's sex trafficking victims were born in Canada.
"Traffickers don't look for the drug-ridden dysfunctional person. What they look for is middle class to upper-middle class, they bring more money. They like virgins. All kids are vulnerable," said Smith.
The young people, 50 per cent of whom are Indigenous, are meticulously groomed by the traffickers and "initially, they call it the honeymoon period, and often young girls, supposedly at 12 or 14 will fall in love with their trafficker and they think he or she is a knight in shining armour, when in actual fact they have very different goals for those young people. It's really the money. They don't care about them."
According to Smith, a trafficker could earn, on average $280,000 per year from one victim, with that individual bringing in between $300 – $1500 daily.
Trafficking victims are 'abused, raped, traumatized'
But the victim is unlikely to see any of that money. Instead, "they're abused, they're raped, they're traumatized and traffickers have complete control. They eat when traffickers say they eat, they move when the traffickers say they move."
Smith became interested in the issue of human trafficking from her son, who was a member of an integrated police child exploitation unit.
During her time in Ottawa, she helped craft two amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada. The first introduced mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking children aged 18 years and younger. The other allows Canadian authorities to prosecute Canadians who traffic or exploit other people outside the country.
Learn the signs of trafficking
Smith is speaking to students at St. Ignatius High School in Thunder Bay on Tuesday, followed by a public presentation at 7 p.m. that evening in the school auditorium.
Her goal, she said is to make people more aware of human trafficking and to train parents, teachers and other significant adults to recognize the signs that a young person is being trafficked.
Signs of sex trafficking (from the JSF) include:
Sudden interest in a boy or man who is several years older
New clothing, jewelry or gifts without having the money to purchase these items
Frequent sleepovers at a friend's house
Change in style of dress or makeup
New circle of friends and isolation from old group of friends
Change in attitude toward school, regular activities, friends and family
Grades are dropping
Unexplained cuts and bruises
Using two cell phones
More than 100 people arrested in Hillsborough County human trafficking sting
By WFLA 8 On Your Side Staff and Ryan Hughes
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County deputies have arrested more than 100 people in connection to a five-month-long undercover investigation relating to human trafficking.
“I strongly believe that in order to eradicate human trafficking, we must continue to focus on reducing the demand,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
The investigation ran from June through the start of November.
Detectives began zeroing in on websites and forums known for soliciting sex, as well as strip clubs, massage parlors and motels throughout Hillsborough County. Then they had female detectives pose as prostitutes and male detectives pose as Johns.
Deputies said they debriefed every woman who was taken into custody to learn if they were being trafficked, and offered support services that were made available through organizations like the Salvation Army, Bridging Freedom and Created Tampa.
At a press conference on Monday, Chronister put a spotlight on a number of cases, including two where men allegedly tried to meet up with a teenage girl for sex.
Chronister said Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, each met up with an undercover detective who posed as the stepfather of a 14-year-old girl.
“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” explained the Sheriff. “Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”
Both Fitzgerald and Colon were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
Chronister also mentioned the arrest of 29-year-old Steven Cook who tried to arrange a sexual encounter at a hotel with two women and an undercover detective.
Investigators say one of the women claimed Cook forced her to meet up and have sex with men even though she was in pain from a medical-related issue.
Cook, who is also a Latin King Gang Member, was charged with human trafficking and deriving proceeds of prostitution, among other charges.
“It's chipping away and I think it definitely puts a dent in it, especially in our community. Maybe they won't do it here,” said Dotti Groover-Skipper of the Salvation Army.
Suburban sex slaves
By MADISON MILLER
“You can order her faster than a pizza.”
“I slept with your politicians, fathers and financial titans against my will.”
“You think boys don't get sold for sex?”
Back in January, during Human Trafficking Awareness month, Lacey's Hope Project launched a campaign in Milwaukee called “Your suburbs are not safe.”
The goal of the project, according to CBS 58, is to show that sex trafficking can happen anywhere.
The billboards showcased the ease and prominence of trafficking outside of a big city. While the white picket fences and friendly neighbors of suburbia seem to evoke a sense of comfort, that's not always the case.
Noelle Viard, director of communications at Restoration 61, a non-profit organization that works to raise awareness and support for victims of sex trafficking, said that the rise in awareness is starting to match the increase in crime and situations in which trafficking is occurring.
A lot of this awareness can start with younger people.
“There's a current culture among young people that promotes the idea of sugar daddies that is saying it is totally okay to date someone and exchange intimacy for financial provision or gifts or safety or housing,” said Viard. “This is a mild form of commercial sexual exploitation.”
Viard said that within the Chicagoland area, it is estimated that 16,000 to 20,000 women and girls are trafficked each year. This is on a rotating door, where when people exit the life, others are being recruited.
The problem permeates both the suburbs and the city limits, anywhere from Wheaton to Naperville.
“You can't find a zip code where this situation is not occurring,” said Viard.
But why are we suddenly talking about it more, especially in the area?
Social media continues to generate a larger conversation about human trafficking. It warns people about anything from making sure to be cautious of items on the windshield to avoiding people approaching in parking lots or malls.
“We had a volunteer come into work with us, as I got to know her she shared with me the reason she'd been motivated to connect was because she had been in a local mall in the Naperville area and her daughter was approached with the initial contact of her being recruited into the life of trafficking and sexual exploitation,” said Viard.
Earlier this year, there was also social buzz surrounding two women walking around downtown Naperville and asking questions that are considered red flags for human trafficking.
According to Naperville Patch, in February 2018, a self-proclaimed Naperville pimp was convicted of 14 felony counts of sex trafficking.
He was found guilty of “using violence and manipulation to force women into sex work for nearly a decade, according to the United State's Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois.”
This is a continuing occurrence in the Chicagoland area.
A lot of local businesses have begun working to ease the stress human trafficking has on communities.
My Half of the Sky is a coffee shop in downtown Wheaton that focuses on using its proceeds to make a difference. The idea is that money and charity isn't enough, but new opportunities can make all the difference.
“My Half provides development through employment and support in order to help women live a healthy life after their trauma,” said Renee Pollino, founder of My Half of the Sky. “Job opportunities give people hope for a new life and it changes generations of families who often don't think that they have a future.”
Compared to big cities where trafficking can happen on the street less noticeably, suburban trafficking often uses tactics that are less noticeable and in some ways, even more dangerous.
“Rather than using street prostitution, in which 85% of adult women prostitutes are trafficked, pimps and traffickers are using legitimate businesses, such as a massage and nail salon, photography studios and other means to traffick women in local suburban neighborhoods,” said Pollino.
The Polaris Project estimates that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally.
This concept of people as an object to purchase goes beyond dating.
It is commonplace for men in a relationship with money or resources to be referred to as a “sugar daddy” or “arm candy.”
This perpetuates the growing issue in relationships that something is owed and that, in a lot of ways, money can equal sex.
Anne Groggel, assistant professor of sociology who also specializes in intimate partner violence, said that there's a very inherent power structure we think of in dating.
“Oftentimes we normalize sexuality in ways that aren't always natural, but women become very accustomed to becoming a product,” said Groggel. “We've normalized the idea that someone is arm candy and someone else is paying for that right.”
This kind of language continues to enforce the idea that dates are just an avenue to debt. After a date, considered a kind of transaction, this person owes you something which often times can be a dangerous connection.
Human trafficking victims find themselves getting justice only years after being in this life.
While those in trafficking are often revealed when they end up in hospitals, convicted of felonies or drug use, it can be difficult to find the source of the trafficking. This means despite living years as a victim, they could only ever been seen as someone prosecuted for a crime.
Human trafficking is the world's fastest-growing criminal industry, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
“From the comfort of someone's home, someone could observe on the film a child being molested or a woman being forced to perform sexual acts that is broadcast,” said Groggel. “From the comfort of your home, you can be involved in this industry and never have it linked to you.”
Recent arguments suggest that legalizing prostitution would help empower and free women. In human trafficking, women are often bound and trapped in ways they may not even realize themselves. On a day-to-day basis, these women are in survival mode.
“Just the other day a news article went out saying ‘Online prostitution is making it safer for women, so we should legalize it so that women can work independently from their pimps and make their own money' … very few women do this independently. There's always a pimp or trafficker involved whether they are being sold online or not,” said Pollino
How can trafficking be stopped when recognizing the signs can be difficult?
Conversation and training can lead people to see the signs.
“One industry where people are actually becoming better trained are the airlines. They are being trained to notice certain cues or warnings to watch out for. When there are individuals traveling alone or with someone who is aggressive,” said Groggel. “Someone who is just a normal flight attendant is now really important in terms of intervention.”
Intervention can happen anywhere and is one of the most effective forms to halt the effects of trafficking.
“Use your voice. If you see something strange or off like a young girl with an older man … follow your gut,” said Pollino. “Call the police, engage the young woman, get a license plate. Every little bit counts.
Rethinking the Online Sex Trade Debate
In high school, I found out that an older man sold images of me on his pornography website. I did not know about his photography of me, nor did the fifty-plus other girls he preyed on, until the police informed us.
When I became a cheerleader as a young girl, I never expected it would lead to sexual exploitation. I actually wanted to be a soccer player, watching my male cousin win big championships, but my public school did not have a girls team until I was older. I would quickly learn that sexism operates not only through exclusion, but also through endangering female-dominated spaces.
I learned that lesson the day I ended up in the police precinct, identifying myself in videos of competitions I participated in. A male teacher in his late twenties at an all-girls prep school in Connecticut had been following a number of cheerleaders around the northeast United States as we stretched and competed to produce child pornography for a $14 pay-per-view fee. A zoom lens and malicious intent turned my gymnastics skills from something I loved for the strength, flexibility, and grace they required into something for the sexual consumption of strangers. It left me feeling confused and indignant. I was 14 years old at the time.
That violation, more than a decade ago now, comes up for me when I think about the SESTA/FOSTA bill package that Trump has signed into law. SESTA/FOSTA (the Stopping Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) expands the opportunities to sue websites for providing illegal sexual content, but also threatens the safety of consensual sex workers and free speech on the internet. There is already a lot written for and against it, and I specifically want to weigh in on what I see as an opportunity to expand the parameters of the debate itself. When there is a lack of nuance, both consensual workers and those who are otherwise victim to commercialized rape, non-consensual image sharing, and other sexual violations find themselves especially vulnerable.
The Legal Loophole that Led to SESTA/FOSTA
Before turning attention to the problems of SESTA/FOSTA and what spurred the debate, it is important to understand its origins.
For years, victims of child sex trafficking met insurmountable obstacles to holding websites that advertised their sale and profited from their suffering accountable. Courts consistently dismissed their cases based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress in 1996, which freed websites from liability for hosting this content.
The idea was that internet service providers should not be held responsible for illicit content posted by third-party users. A website would not be treated as a “speaker” or “publisher” of content if they were not themselves the maker (“provider”) of the content, as long as “good faith” action was taken to restrict access to anything deemed questionable.
Because of the “good faith” provision, as enacted, Section 230 did not provide absolute immunity. But prevailing judicial interpretations due to a lack of clarity about what a “good faith” effort should consist of have pushed its scope to mean near blanket immunity. What this meant was that I was granted more legal protection than most, because the man who posted my images also owned the website distributing them. If he had provided them to a different website, I could have been among the uncountable victims without legal recourse to have the content removed or hold all those profiting from it accountable
As we've seen from the dismissal of numerous civil suits against Backpage and other websites selling sex and rape, even “in situations where website operators [have] become aware that an advertisement on their site is connected to child sex trafficking, there [has been] no legal duty to delete or block such advertisement.”
Previous legal complaints against Backpage have alleged multitudinous instances of its prior knowledge of child trafficking, a refusal to remove specific content, and a failure to adopt measures that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, state officials, survivors, and others requested. They allege Backpage actively pushed content involving children, rather than acting as an innocent party with neutral practices and policies for accepting classified ads. Charges state that Backpage editors altered ads to remove indications that a minor was involved (such as “amber alert,” “lolita” and “high school”), rather than blocking them altogether; that they allowed ads to go live prior to review and approval by moderators; and that they failed to report illegal activity to NCMEC.
Victim testimonies detail how this facilitated illegal and violent activities, including pimping, drugging, rape by gunpoint, a fatal stabbing, and the dumping of a dead person in a park. In one particularly graphic account, a teenager attempted to escape a kidnapping by jumping out of a vehicle, and was killed by cars passing on the highway. The motion last year for the detention of Backpage executive Michael Lacey declares that Section 230 immunity should not apply due to the nature of the charges. It will be determined at trial if Lacey, Backpage co-founder James Larkin, and five employees of the site are guilty.
In a 2011 decision dismissing a civil suit against Village Voice Media Holdings and Backpage.com LLC, the judge declared that the plaintiff, a 14-year-old girl, could only target the provider of the content of the advertisements:
“Plaintiff artfully and eloquently attempts to phrase her allegations to avoid the reach of § 230…Congress has declared such websites to be immune from suits arising from such injuries. It is for Congress to change the policy that gave rise to such immunity.”
She was only permitted to pursue child prostitution or peonage charges against the individual who photographed her, posted the ad with her image, transported her to men for commercial rape, and financially benefitted from those acts. In this suit, like many that followed, there was no opportunity to get at the profit structure underneath the violence. It would take much more legal pressure to force review of whether, or to what extent, the Backpage executives directly grew their multimillion-dollar business (operating in 97 countries) through knowing exploitation of not only this one child, but of untold more.
The 2017 documentary I Am Jane Doe argues that prior knowledge and specific kinds of interference is what turns an innocent website into a liable “speaker” or “publisher” of illicit content. Calls to take down Backpage and other websites like it by people interviewed in the film transcend political affiliation—they're repeated by leftist writers with the Village Voice like Tom Robbins and Richard Goldstein, to representatives of NCMEC and NGOs like Covenant House and FAIR Girls, to liberal and right-wing politicians like Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator John McCain. They all contend that Backpage's executives did not act in “good faith” and should therefore not be shielded from investigation or any resulting sanction.
I am Jane Doe appears instrumental to the passing of SESTA/FOSTA, explaining the troubling way courts have dealt with contradictory interpretations of the CDA by effectively granting immunity to websites. SESTA/FOSTA clarifies that when it comes to violating federal and state trafficking laws, websites may indeed be held accountable. Supporters celebrate how SESTA/FOSTA opens the possibility of pursuing a lawsuit at all, which makes it possible to thoroughly review evidence regarding how active a web platform, such as Backpage, has been in the facilitation of sexual crime.
SESTA/FOSTA's Harm to Sex Workers
However advantageous SESTA/FOSTA may (or may not) be for stopping illegal trafficking, consensual sex workers who have used sites like Backpage to free themselves of pimps, screen their clients, and gain greater control of their safety have been fighting it. Fearful of lawsuits, those sites have been preemptively shutting down, leaving many sex workers desperate and returning to the streets.
Reports of an increase in deaths and disappearances of sex workers are already coming out. Even the forums sex workers have used to share safety tips are vanishing, since it is unclear how courts will now judge what kind of speech constitutes “promoting” or “facilitating” sexual crime. Some harm reduction organizations are fearful to offer condoms and are reconsidering holding workshops and conferences on safe sex and the sex industry.
As one sex worker rights advocate told me, “SESTA/FOSTA made us more vulnerable than before.”
Protests against SESTA/FOSTA have taken place in cities across the country. June 1, 2018 became the first National Sex Work Lobby Day, with events occurring in nearly every US region. Many chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, among other organizations, have issued statements of solidarity against SESTA/FOSTA. Resistance is also happening through the court system. On June 28, 2018, lawyers representing Woodhull Freedom Foundation, along with Human Rights Watch, the Internet Archive, and two individuals, filed a lawsuit challenging FOSTA's constitutionality. The case has yet to be decided.
Notably, the complaint argues that the legislation “erroneously conflates all sex work with trafficking…has impeded efforts to prevent trafficking and rescue victims, and has only made all forms of sex work more dangerous.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and other free speech advocacy groups additionally believe all websites—regardless of whether they are oriented toward sex— should be worried, since they could now be more liable for the information their users post. While large organizations probably have the resources to adequately filter content, smaller sites are at a disadvantage.
LGBTQ organizations are some of the most vocal because of the place sex work occupies in certain understandings of LGBTQ liberation. LGBTQ-identified individuals sometimes rely on sex work since the broader capitalist market discriminates against them. They may find themselves vulnerable to trafficking or “survival sex” due to high rates of youth homelessness from families disowning them.
Such work aims to humanize sex workers and raise awareness about the inequalities and white supremacist cultural and legal practices that disproportionately target black and brown people, and especially women and trans people.
SESTA/FOSTA's Sacrificial Lambs
On the one hand, the debate over SESTA/FOSTA makes it seem as though we need to choose sides: one is either with consensual sex workers or with victims of trafficking. On the other hand, efforts to attend to both largely gloss over the distinct features of each struggle. Few people or organizations are addressing both SESTA/FOSTA's danger to sex workers and ongoing victim concerns about internet trafficking.
Some commentators make the dangerous mistake of splitting sex workers and survivors calling for accountability into groups necessarily at odds. But there is no consensus among victims of such violation about best solutions—some passionately support SESTA/FOSTA, while others strongly oppose it. Consensual workers are themselves vulnerable to trafficking and other violations, which organizations such as Survivors Against SESTA attest to.
Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-trafficking organization consisting of former Navy SEALs and CIA operatives, has declared that “shutting down Backpage is a small price to protect children”:
“[Sex worker rights activists] need to recognize how many children were being abused because Backpage existed. If you let sex workers work legitimately [only] because we fear for the rights of sex workers, you are opening the door for children to be raped by millions in the process."
That kind of argument weighs who matters most based on the perceived intensity of the violation or the number of people affected. This often involves fights over the legitimacy of the data itself and its interpretation, and suggests that it is not possible to address the needs of all vulnerable parties.
The data that exists is not easy to rely on, in any case. Even where rates of trafficking might appear high, many investigators assume under-reporting because of the trauma, stigma, and potential retaliation that can accompany speaking up. Others draw attention to “traditionalist morality”—that sex for money, or sex more generally, is bad—which exaggerates coercion and violence by seeing the entire trade as immoral. People on all sides, though, concede that the data we have is quite inadequate, as it often goes with underground industries.
Conflicting views within leftist organizations are especially important to explore, since discussions tend to be less about the morality of sex and more about how we socially value women, children, and other marginalized groups. Some see sex work as work like any other (however exploitative), while to others it can represent an expression of genuine sexual freedom. Still others note signs of increasing violence and objectification of mostly young women and transgender people, with the Internet facilitating and normalizing male participation in harmful, sexist consumerism. These debates shape views of whether decriminalization should extend to the entire trade (a move toward improving it) or only to sex workers themselves (a move toward abolishing it).
Cutting through this dilemma is the argument that improving conditions for consensual workers will also benefit victims coerced into the industry. There is an argument that websites like Backpage make it easier to monitor, track, and respond to illicit activity. If only people had the ‘right' information, it says, there would be no division. It smoothes differences, not unlike the paternalism it is positioned against (which asserts that abolition is equally beneficial to consensual workers as everyone else by defining even workers as victims).
I have asked sex worker rights activists about how challenging it is to fully address the concerns of all vulnerable parties. Is there an inherent, irresolvable conflict between the different groups? Is it impossible to support, survivors who are pursuing more accountability from websites and workers who depend on those websites at the same time? Or is it the impulse to see conflict that's getting in the way—that is, would greater understanding of the problem help dissolve current divisions?
One sex worker rights activist told me they were not necessarily interested in defending Backpage, but expressed disbelief that the company had any interest in promoting child trafficking. While the activist sympathized with my story of being put online as a teenager, they asserted that we should be skeptical of organizations like NCMEC “that financially benefit from inflated trafficking numbers.” However ‘good' NCMEC's intentions, they said, “when your budget relies on a problem continuing to exist…there is some conflict of interest there.”
For many people, Backpage appears to have taken all the proper measures of an organization concerned about trafficking. Indeed, published critiques of SESTA/FOSTA almost always dismiss child exploitation charges against Backpage as “baseless” and suggest that we should instead appreciate that Backpage makes crime visible, allowing for its obstruction.
NCMEC and the victims who have pursued cases against Backpage tell such a different story. Whereas NCMEC met with Backpage regularly for a number of years to develop best practices, NCMEC eventually lost faith in the relationship and went on to write amicus briefs against the company. According to one NCMEC representative speaking on camera for I am Jane Doe, Backpage's executives have appeared “more interested in using an association with the National center to clean up their public image.”
Examining Where Struggles Diverge
To be responsive to all vulnerable parties means addressing divergent understandings of what the problem is.
Common among free speech advocates is the idea that the best thing to do is “to leave…companies alone—to leverage public backlash and economic pressure to get them to take action against bad actors.”
But many survivors and legal experts have pointed out that there are too many loopholes and opportunities for exploitation to occur, which has more to do with the structure of the sex trade than individual traffickers. They direct attention to how the use of Bitcoin and gift cards on sites like Backpage and Craigslist have protected pimps and johns. If sites work with law enforcement to combat commercialized rape, hackers employed to fight crime have reported to me that anonymity disrupts those efforts. Users are not required to have verifiable email addresses and telephone numbers, nor to provide their or the photographed individual's ages and identities.
Some experts point to a statistic from NCMEC of an 846% increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking in recent years as evidence that pimps prefer working online. Besides the shield it could provide them from law enforcement, they can also jump geographical boundaries and advertise their victims as “new” and “available for a limited time only.”
The NCMEC statistic is contested. But as plaintiffs against Backpage note, the company has a conflict of interest because of the potential for massive profits. One training document submitted as evidence to the court instructs moderators not to send emergency alerts to NCMEC in response to complaints filed by extended family members of children advertised on the site. Whereas Backpage has asserted it stopped trafficking online “to an unprecedented degree,” it nonetheless worked hard to prevent the passing of Senate Bill 6251, which would have required age verification for sex ads. The company's general counsel Liz McDougall successfully argued that it would be impractical to adhere to the bill, and that Section 230 prohibited any such constraint.
Even those who participate in the trade with all-around consent often wish to remain anonymous. On the Savage Love podcast, host Dan Savage lamented the shut down of Craigslist and Backpage ads in his conversation with sex worker Mistress Matisse precisely because they uniquely allowed “closeted” people and people with “really obscure, out there kinks” to pursue their desires “without it ever being able to be traced back to you.”
Would anonymity no longer be desired if sex work were decriminalized? We would, in any case, need to carefully consider conflicting ideas about what decriminalization means for trafficking and gendered power dynamics more broadly. Peer-reviewed and other studies show that decriminalization can often make things safer for consensual workers. However, many point to how at the same time it increases illegal trafficking and harms women as a group. A holistic response requires grappling with very big issues, powerful creativity, and compassion for the multiple vulnerable parties to resolve any contradictions.
Examining the issue from new angles might lead us to find surprising areas of overlap between these struggles, opening possibilities for more effective solidarity.
Beyond coalitions of trafficking survivors that support SESTA/FOSTA, a number of lawyers and activists trying to stop nonconsensual image sharing have told me it assists their work. A great number of the latter, however, believe that the harmful effect on consensual sex workers is not acceptable collateral.
A co-founder of a non-profit dedicated to fighting revenge porn explained how difficult it has been to have to rely on voluntary responses from websites to take down nonconsensual content due to Section 230. But while she understands “the laws that hold websites accountable for their actions to be, overall, beneficial” to her organization's goals, she also understands that they are “wholly problematic for sex workers and other marginalized groups.”
Her organization, she stated, wants “the safety and empowerment of everyone, so we hope that the laws are changed to reflect that, and that they are carried out how they were meant to be used—to target harmful crimes instead of consensual sex workers.”
Some have argued that SESTA/FOSTA is not necessary for taking down websites that commit abuses. But at the same time, the ACLU, Google, and the Internet Association have treated efforts to criminalize revenge porn as threatening free speech—revealing the broader ongoing debates about what constitutes “protected speech.”14 Indeed, New York only this year criminalized revenge porn, and several states continue to allow it.
The irony is that since SESTA/FOSTA does not actually clear up what counts as “facilitating” or “promoting” trafficking, it might paradoxically stand in the way of efforts to hold known violators accountable.
One young woman reported to me that she was on the brink of holding accountable a man who posted images of her online when SESTA/FOSTA was passed. The website that was providing the evidence under a warrant, Discord, suddenly deleted the poster's profile and information. She says that a state agent overseeing her case said the dumping of information looked like a “definite result from SESTA/FOSTA.”
Although tampering with evidence is a punishable offense, websites that are now afraid about their potential liability are likely to act in such ways, she predicts, given that there is so little support for cases like hers. “You can talk to thousands of women across the United States. They walk into a police office and they don't even get the report taken when it comes to revenge porn, so I'm so grateful to even having someone looking at my case,” she says.
Activists have noted that when revenge porn cases are not taken seriously, the women who sought support often end up murdered by the very men stalking or distributing images of them. But there remain many questions about how SESTA/FOSTA actually works, and what is still required to build more effective solutions to sexual violation.
We find ourselves in a strange new landscape in which websites are preemptively shutting down because of the uncertainty about what activities are permissible, and as a result deleting digital evidence that victims need to pursue justice. What can possibly justify this mess? Hasn't the issue this whole time—ever since the CDA was written in the ‘90s—been the absence of a definition of “good faith” practice? Might vulnerable parties come together and determine what “good faith” practices should be—in ways that address their diverse needs?
I contacted one freedom of speech organization involved in campaigns against SESTA/FOSTA to find out if this was something they have already considered or could address in the future. Could we carefully construct and edit the language of laws and policies to get at harmful underlying ideologies and profit structures—rather than simply “bad actors”—while making clear and reasonable definitions of “good faith” operations, avoiding blanket immunity, but respecting consensual workers and protected speech?
The president of the foundation replied to my question: “Amendments to the bill are not the solution.” She argued that besides it being “a weapon in the ongoing war against sex workers,” the way it is “chipping away at this immunity” will not simply “make it impractical for the next Instagram or Snapchat to launch,” but moreover, it will “in turn inhibit the free speech rights of all internet users.”
Perhaps in our current sociolegal context that criminalizes sex work, and sex workers themselves, it may feel difficult to imagine a plausible scenario in which defining “good faith” practices to do anything but further endanger sex workers. And yet I'm left wondering why we are not collectively able to imagine a world where a multimillion-dollar business like Backpage is held to higher standards, and not sacrifice consensual sex workers in the process.
I might not have the answers for how to resolve these thorny dilemmas, but there is one thing I know for certain as I reflect back on my experience of that man secretly filming me for his child pornography website: I, for one, am thankful that the law protected me when I needed it. All of us who are victims or vulnerable to abuse deserve that, and none of us should rest until that becomes a reality for all of us.