| Today's NAASCA news:
October 1, 2014
Young sexual offenders move from downloading images to sexually harming children
There has been a “marked rise” in the number of 18 to 25 year olds looking for treatment
THERE HAS BEEN a rise in the number of young sex offenders seeking treatment, support group One in Four has said.
The organisation has seen more young men, aged 18 to 25, referred for its treatment programme, it confirmed during the launch of its annual report.
Last year, 30 sex offenders were given treatment by One in Four, which works with the Gardaí and the Child and Family Agency.
Executive director Maeve Lewis says the jump in numbers means that the age category makes up a quarter of all offenders.
“Many of these young men began offending as adolescents by downloading internet images of children being abused and then moved on to sexually harming children themselves,” she continued, noting that “serious questions” are posed for the digital-age society in terms of supporting young people to develop “healthy notions of sex based on consensual sexual intimacy”.
There has also been a shift in the profile of the survivors of child sex abuse that One in Four sees for psychotherapy services.
Previously, the group was closely associated with adults who were abused in the Catholic Church but last year, most of its clients were harmed within their own families and neighbourhoods.
This is the more accurate reality of child sex abuse in Ireland, according to Lewis.
“People who have been sexually abused in their family have very complex needs,” she continued.
They need support in dealing with the impact of the abuse in their adult lives, but their families also need support in coming to terms with the truth of what happened and in understanding the intricate dynamics that allowed family members to be sexually abused.
Altogether in 2013, 115 clients and 43 families were helped through the services. Separately, advocacy officers supported another 633 individuals.
Lewis is concerned that Ireland may become complacent, believing that children are no longer at risk because of the reports into clerical abuse.
“The experience of our clients shows that child sexual abuse sadly continues to be the reality for far too many children and we see the heart breaking consequences of that in our work every day.”
Lewis believes there has been a “notable improvement” in the way the new Child and Family Agency consistently deals with allegations of sex abuse. She said that retrospective allegations are “usually taken very seriously now” and that there is a recognition that those who harmed 15 years ago could still present a risk to children today.
One in Four says that child protection continues to be a major aspect of its work and 51 child protection notifications were made to the Child and Family Agency in 2013.
One in Four has again highlighted the problems with Ireland's justice system's handling of serious sexual crimes.
Of the survivors who deal with the group, just 15% have taken a complaint to the gardaí and even fewer have made it to trial (only 35 clients in 2013).
“Our advocacy officers regularly witness our clients being humiliated and their characters maligned during cross examination in a criminal trial,” explained Lewis.
“With all due regard to the right of an accused person to a fair trial, we have created a criminal justice system that so terrifies victims of sexual crime that most prefer to remain silent rather than seek justice for the terrible harm they have endured.
“This creates a culture where serious crimes are committed with impunity, surely an intolerable situation in a modern democracy.”
Safe Passage provides services for survivors of domestic violence
by Jaclyn Bryson
Sparked by the rising feminist movement and backed by the dedication of volunteers, Necessities/Necesidades first opened its doors in 1977 to spread awareness of domestic violence and lend a helping hand to those who needed it
Over 30 years later, the name of this group has changed, but the goal remains the same.
Safe Passage is based in Northampton and offers a variety of resources to those who are affected by domestic violence in Hampshire County. According to Executive Director Marianne Winters, these resources include a community program to help locals living with violence in any range, an emergency shelter which houses six families at a time and a prevention program called “Say Something,” aimed at preventing interpersonal violence.
“I'm really inspired by the idea of social change,” Winters said as to why she is promoting this line of work.
In the 2012 fiscal year, Safe Passage sheltered 44 adults and 35 children, answered 2,000 emergency hotline calls and helped 90 survivors get the legal help they needed, according to its website. According to Winters, these statistics generally remain the same annually.
“Our shelter is always full,” she said. “In our community program, different aspects… probably reach about 1,200 people overall in a year.”
And with the month of October dedicated to domestic violence awareness, all employees stressed the importance of reaching out to survivors and spreading the truth about the problem of domestic violence in this country. According to the Safe Passage website, one in four women and one in seven men are victims of severe assault at the hands of an intimate partner.
“Abuse sort of breeds in silence, whether that be silence on the part of the survivor or whether that be silence on the part of society and the bystanders that witness such violence happening,” Bridget Mulkerrins said. Mulkerrins is a children's advocate with Safe Passage for five years.
“Any way that we can break that silence, any way that we can give a voice to the voiceless, helps to end the cycle of violence,” she said.
But some want to stress that a month devoted to awareness isn't enough.
“I think that it shouldn't just be one month. I think that it should be day to day,” said Karen Lopez, who is the Latina counselor/advocate and has worked at Safe Passage for three and a half years. “We should make everyone aware of, ‘What is domestic violence?'”
Mulkerrins facilitates programs year-round, such as one on one counseling with children and the non-offending parent. She also works with a support group aimed at how domestic violence impacts children and how to intervene, community outreach to local schools and advocacy support. That may even include speaking to lawyers and the Department of Children and Families to make sure the child gets the support needed.
And these services are available to all.
“Some people have a misunderstanding that we only serve women but that's absolutely not true,” Mulkerrins said. “We serve all gender identities and sexual expressions. We don't turn anyone away.”
In order to make all these programs and services possible, Safe Passage staffs 12 full-time workers and 15 part-time workers, according to Winters. And in this line of work, no two days are alike.
“Day in and day out you don't know what you are going to come across through those doors,” Lopez said.
But despite being constantly around people who have suffered in their lifetime, for the employees at Safe Passage, it's all worth it. Lopez recalled recently meeting with one client, who she recognized as being someone she had helped about a year and a half ago.
According to Lopez, this survivor stopped by to say thank you.
“(Each day is) spontaneous. It can be crazy. It can be happy. It can be sad. It can be everything and anything at any given time,” Lopez said. “But the outcome – that's the reward.”
Safe Passage can be reached at 413-586-1125 and for those who need immediate help or advice, their 24-hour hotline can be reached at 888-345-5282.
by Erick Trickey
Michelle Knight swipes through the 2,035 photos on her giant Samsung smartphone, going backward in time.
Some pictures show her at Cleveland's zoo, posing languidly amid the RainForest's ferns. "Model shots!" she jokes. Next, she's taking a selfie in a shiny red Chinese dress.
She scrolls on, giving me an unguarded tour of her summer, narrating each picture with an enthusiasm her 4-foot-5-inch frame can barely contain. At a costume store, she's the short one wearing a tiger mask, posing with a friend disguised as a monkey, then with another dressed as a purple giraffe. A swipe and she's at Cleveland's Puerto Rican parade, wearing a red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag dress. With affection and excitement in her voice, she identifies the friends posing with her, including a local boxer and a reggaeton artist.
Another picture catches her eating a slice of pizza. A red and blue Icee cup stands in the foreground. It's not just any lunch, but another little victory, the moment she gained control over another memory of captivity.
"In the house, he fed me pizza from the garbage," Knight says, her voice suddenly flat and matter-of-fact. She knows she doesn't need to identify him or the house.
She is collecting joyful memories by the hundreds, even thousands — her answer to the 3,910 days Ariel Castro imprisoned her at 2207 Seymour Ave., days of isolation, death threats and unspeakable torture.
In the journals Knight kept as a captive, she wrote about all the things she wanted to do once she was free: run, shoot a bow, learn to swim and box, and see Joey, the son she gave birth to at 18. "Someday," she wrote then, "I will live my life like it's my last breath." Now she's plunging into adventures, pushing her freedom as far as her body will take her. She's experienced some of those dreamed-of moments, such as riding a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster (Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200).
Knight shows selfie after selfie from a trip to Kelleys Island. Her blond hair flies in front of her face, then flutters back, as the enormous blue Lake Erie horizon flows behind her. From there, she swipes over to a pencil sketch, a skillful self-portrait. I recognize her right away: the round cheeks, the big smile, the ring through her lip.
She presses play on a video of herself singing at a House of Blues karaoke night and sings along with the clip, creating a duet: "Far across the distance and spaces between us ... I believe that the heart does go on."
The song she's singing — Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" — is special to her. It came on the radio inside Castro's house one night, seven years after Knight was kidnapped. The lyrics, Knight says, talked her out of suicide.
"I thought there was no hope," she recalls. "I didn't want to live on.
"That song happened to come on, and then I couldn't do it. I told myself I wouldn't want my son to know me as a person that failed in life, a person that gave up easily."
This spring, in one of the many extreme reversals Knight has experienced since her rescue, she met Dion backstage at one of the singer's shows in Las Vegas.
"Thank you for helping me in my darkest time," Knight recalls telling her. Dion responded that Knight was an inspiration to her as well. "That made me smile but cry at the same time," she says.
Two years ago, Knight was the forgotten woman among Castro's captives, the missing person whom no one was looking for. Liberated, she is embracing the sudden notoriety she didn't choose and living a very active, public life in Cleveland. Seventeen months after emerging from 2207 Seymour, Knight has written a best-selling book, traveled to four countries and conducted numerous TV interviews.
Because of a troubled childhood that included years of sexual abuse, Knight has chosen not to reunite with her family. Instead, the 33-year-old is creating a different life for herself: the single woman in the city. She has moved into an apartment downtown, enrolled in cooking classes, adopted a puppy and made new friends. Self-reliant, she has covered her arms with tattoos, reminders of her resolutions about how to react to hardship. She has changed her name to Lillian Rose Lee (Lily for short), part of her effort to move on from her past — though she still goes by Michelle Knight as an author and in media appearances (including, at her request, in this article).
Knight is constructing her future in public, in sometimes awkward but often poignant ways. She has embraced her strange celebrity as a sort of talk therapy, a path to self-empowerment and a way to deliver an inspirational message to a mass audience — and she's done it remarkably soon after escaping Castro's hell.
Despite her new freedom, and many moments of joy, Knight's life is difficult. Castro's abuse inflicted serious physical injuries. Terrible memories return. She is still learning how to trust. She's often out meeting people, and though many strangers are kind and encouraging, some are intrusive and disrespectful of her boundaries. She has the support of friends and advisers, but Knight is forging much of her new path on her own.
France and Germany were hard, with their strange food and languages she didn't understand. London was easier: friendly people speaking English, willing to help. On a bus tour, Knight marveled at London's sculptures and architecture, how it all fit together in a way she hadn't seen before.
Knight spent three weeks touring European cities this May to promote her book, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness , A Life Reclaimed. Her lawyer, former judge Peggy Foley Jones; her lawyer's son, Mack; and the Rev. Angel Arroyo, a member of the Cleveland chapter of the Guardian Angels, came along as advisers and supporters.
The Paris leg, often overwhelming, came together for her one night during a cruise on the Seine River. The City of Light's gold-topped buildings dazzled. As she snapped photos, some music she liked came on. "We got up in the middle of the floor and we started dancing," she recalls, "and everybody on the boat was looking at us." She didn't care.
The trip, which also included a stop in Toronto, underscored the reversal in Knight's life: She traveled across borders and an ocean to tell her story of nearly 11 years trapped inside a sadist's barricaded house.
In Finding Me , Knight answers nearly every question the curious might have about her experience of survival. She describes the chains, the death threats at gunpoint, the physical degradations: eating spoiled food or a single daily fast-food meal, going months without a shower, sleeping on a filthy mattress. Some details she recounts about Castro's sexual assaults are too graphic to bear. She describes her pregnancies and the beatings that caused her to miscarry. She tells how she delivered Amanda Berry's daughter and revived the baby when she wasn't breathing.
Knight explains how she endured. She consoled herself by writing in journals, imagining conversations with her son and exchanging encouragement with Gina DeJesus, her cellmate in a tiny pink room.
The memoir also reveals that the trauma in Knight's life didn't begin when Castro kidnapped her at age 21. She grew up in a transient family in Cleveland, and she suffered years of sexual abuse by an unnamed male family member. She ran away for three months at 15, lived under the Innerbelt Bridge in Tremont and was taken in by a marijuana and Ecstasy dealer, who taught her to shoot a gun and had her run drugs. Her memories of life with the dealer and another 15-year-old are warmer and more poignant than her accounts of home. "They were there for me," she says. "They were more a family than my own family."
Knight has kept her distance from family since her rescue. "I still don't want contact with them," she tells me. "As much as I tried when I was little, I think there's no hope for the future for me and my mom and the family, 'cause I've still got that fear factor of being hurt over and over again."
The book is dedicated to Knight's son, Joey. She describes his birth, when she was 18, as the happiest moment of her life. She lost custody when he was 2, she writes, after her mother's boyfriend broke his knee and Knight lied to cover it up.
On Aug. 22, 2002, the day Knight accepted a fateful ride from Castro, she was trying to get to a meeting about regaining custody of Joey from foster care. The book describes how Knight's thoughts of her son sustained her in captivity. She talked out loud to him as if he were with her, addressed journal entries to him, dreamed of him at night and imagined their reunion.
Afterward, she learned he'd been adopted at age 4. Her book opens with the moment last year when she first saw pictures of him wearing a suit at age 7 and a baseball uniform at 14. But Knight has deferred to his adoptive parents' fear that a reunion might be too disruptive. She doesn't even know if Joey is aware that she is his birth mother.
"They want me to give him peace," she says. She hopes to reconnect with him once he's an adult. "I chose to let him, as he gets older, make the decision on whether or not he wants to see me."
Knight's book also describes her bittersweet reunion with the city of Cleveland. Four days after her May 2013 rescue, she moved from MetroHealth Medical Center to an assisted-living facility and saw downtown for the first time in almost 11 years. She cried when she realized how much had changed, from new buildings to new buses.
The city had moved on without her.
Knight is wearing green, size 2 1/2 bowling shoes and staring down a shiny lane at downtown's Corner Alley. Nicho, a shy, dark-haired 5-year-old boy who is the son of a friend she met at a wedding, stands next to her. She hands him a 6-pound green ball. "Throw it as hard as you can!" she says. When he knocks down six pins, she cheers.
She shows him how to "throw like grandma" by holding the ball in the air between her feet and chucking it forward with both hands.
Knight greets some Corner Alley employees by name. It's one of her favorite spots in Cleveland. She lives downtown, and she sounds as excited about its revival as the residents who watched it evolve. "You can bowl down here, you can karaoke down here, you [can] dance," she says. "There's so many things that you can do now."
Knight is extremely social. She attends Trinity Cathedral and sings in its choir. She's gone to Cavaliers, Browns and Indians games. She's met Kyrie Irving downtown and befriended local boxers.
"I feel most at home when I'm with my friends," Knight says. Staying home alone, she gets bored, feeling she's holding herself back. "Doing fun and joyful things, that makes me feel more alive."
She's adopted an adorable off-white, 2-month-old puppy she's named Snow White. She's reunited with a few old friends and made new ones. "My friends," she says, "are my chosen family."
She has even run into Charles Ramsey, the Seymour Avenue neighbor who helped Berry escape Castro's house. But she found Ramsey overwhelming. She says he saw her at the Corner Alley, invited himself to bowl with her and dropped an extraordinary number of curse words. Ramsey's recent claim on Reddit that he sees her around town "several nights a week" isn't true, she says.
Today at the Corner Alley, she's taking it easy, bowling two-handed because she's wearing fake nails. The lane bumpers are up to help Nicho. "He's like a child to me," she says. "I go over to the house, we chill, we have fun, we watch movies. It's awesome."
Since gaining her freedom, Knight has been drawn to friends with children. She's watched a friend's son pitch a high school baseball game — the next-best thing to seeing her own son play.
"It's amazing to be able to do something that you [weren't] able to do for a long time," she says, "even if it ain't with the person that you really wanted it to be with."
Arroyo, the Guardian Angel, says Knight has gotten to know his wife and children, including Angelise, born in winter 2013. "She got to see my daughter grow up," he says. "She loves children."
David Rosa, a cable TV supervisor and music promoter, met Knight at a fundraiser. He's taken her to a World Cup party at the Horseshoe Cleveland and to the park with his teenage daughters and introduced her to the Grammy Award-nominated hip-hop artist Fat Joe, a client of his, via Skype.
Since Knight doesn't have a driver's license, Rosa drives her around on errands. "She needed help, because she didn't have nobody," he says.
Foley Jones, a former judge, has been Knight's lawyer since September 2013. Knight chose her quickly. She walked into her law office, asked questions about pictures of her family and hired her.
"It told me she had a good gut instinct about herself and about life," Foley Jones says. "She's smart as a whip. She's got street smarts."
Foley Jones' role goes beyond normal legal advice. "For a very long time, she didn't really make any decisions about her life, because she couldn't," she says. "Now she has to make a lot of decisions, and she needs — I don't want to say motherly help — but guidance. She asks for guidance."
Foley Jones has helped Knight find her apartment, get to medical appointments, enroll in culinary school and write her book. "She's getting more and more independent, though, which is great."
Knight has always been the most public of 2207 Seymour's three adult survivors.
On the video they released in July 2013, Knight spoke the longest, announcing she would "help others who have been in the same situations I have been in." She was the one victim who spoke at Castro's sentencing the next month, where she memorably warned him that while she had spent nearly 11 years in hell, he would face hell for eternity. On the morning Castro's house was demolished, Knight handed out balloons on Seymour Avenue, dedicating them to still-missing children. Last November, a mere six months after her rescue, she described the tortures of the captivity on Dr. Phil McGraw's talk show.
Berry and DeJesus have reunited with their families and chosen to recover in private. They've granted no interviews and are working together on a memoir scheduled for publication in 2015.
But seclusion and quiet do not fit Knight's outgoing personality. Since May 2013, she's been living with gusto, charging into new experiences, figuring out life as an independent adult at age 33. Her goal of finding herself — announced in her book's title — includes developing her personal strength but also finding ways to help others.
When she's out in Cleveland, Knight tries to balance her desire to connect with people and an insistence on boundaries. The public's role in her recovery is more complicated than simply leaving her alone. She often meets people who thank her for inspiring them. Some tell her their stories of abuse and ask for advice. Many cry.
"Grown men and women give her high-fives and ask for help," Arroyo says, "and say, 'I respect you, Michelle. You're my reason for moving forward.' "
Others snap smartphone photos, hug her and kiss her without permission — perceived as invasive behavior toward anyone, especially a sexual assault victim. "The only thing I ask for is the respect that I deserve and need to heal," she says.
She doesn't go out alone. "I don't want to be treated as a celebrity," she says. "I don't want to be treated as somebody that is broken that needs to be fixed. I don't want people to feel sorry for me."
She prefers people call her Lily, her new name. She doesn't mind talking with people about their lives or how she has persevered. But she won't answer certain prying questions.
"If it's not in her book or on the TV show she's done, she probably didn't want to speak about it," Arroyo says. "Sometimes people become rude."
Strangers ask her about Berry and DeJesus, presuming that she is in touch with them. She isn't. They were last in public together in February, when all three received the Ohio Courage medal from Gov. John Kasich.
In Finding Me , Knight says she and DeJesus spoke on the phone several times after their rescue. Knight, lonely while recovering in the assisted-living home, wished she could talk with DeJesus every day, but the calls dwindled. Eventually, she writes, "I had to respect her choice to move on."
Knight wants to leave it there. The public may think of Knight, DeJesus and Berry as a trio, but that's only because Castro forced them together. "That's a subject that's not really good right now," she tells me.
Knight rolls up her red sweater's sleeve and shows me one of her many tattoos. A green dragon, with red eyes and a fiery belly, stretches up her forearm.
"My protection dragon is for everything that's darkness in my life," she says. It is there to drive the darkness away, to bring her life back into balance.
Her resolve, her positive thoughts and the affirmations inked on her skin cannot always protect her from the memories of trauma. When Knight postponed our meeting one afternoon this August, Foley Jones arrived instead to say that Knight had been awake all night, dreading the impending anniversary of her kidnapping.
We met a few days later instead. "Sometimes," Knight tells me, "I pull myself back, 'cause I need to take time for myself to heal." When a rough day comes, she needs to understand and overcome it, she says, "before I'm able to talk to somebody else and I'm able to say what I need to say."
At Castro's sentencing, a trauma specialist, Dr. Frank Ochberg, testified that Knight, Berry and DeJesus would all face flashbacks of traumatic memories and difficulty knowing who to trust. "With the love and support of this whole community and what they bring to the table, they have a good chance of a good life," Ochberg said, "but that doesn't mean they will ever be free of the damage that was done."
Without prompting, Knight tells me she reads people carefully, listening for lies, watching for changes in facial expressions. She's questioned the motives of some old friends who've asked her for money or support.
"[They] used to treat me like a trophy," she says. "They showed me around to people. They really didn't care about how I felt. I need people to understand that I'm not a trophy. I'm not a victim. I'm not a diamond ring that you can just pawn off to your friends. I'm somebody."
She struggles with physical limitations because of Castro's abuse. "I can't eat right," she says. She had a stomach infection when rescued. Now, there are many foods she can't tolerate. She no longer eats meat.
Her hands shake. "My nerves are shot. I have a lot of trouble writing and drawing, and writing and drawing is my favorite thing to do."
Her eyesight deteriorated during the almost 11 years she went without glasses and saw little sunlight. As we talk, her gaze is off to one side, not quite focused. "I'm going partially blind in one eye," she says. "It's harder to be out in the sunlight. ... It's like somebody burning your eyeballs."
She's not looking for pity. She rolls up her pant leg to reveal another tattoo: two Old West-style revolvers, barrels lined up back-to-back, on her shin. "Know me as a victor," read the cursive letters, bent like hooks, "not a victim."
Knight's financial security is sound for the foreseeable future. The Cleveland Courage Fund, created to support Knight, DeJesus, Berry and Berry's daughter, has raised donations of $1.4 million, so her one-quarter share is at least $350,000. Donations to her through the Dr. Phil Foundation, after her appearances on his talk show, topped $400,000. Royalties from her best-selling book, which debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times best-sellers list in May, are unknown but almost surely into six figures.
In a year and a half, Knight has gone from no freedom to many opportunities, including travel and a large amount of money. I ask what advice people have given her.
"Even though you have this amount of money, don't treat anybody any different," she says. "And don't ever regret what happens in life, 'cause it helps you down the line."
Knight has an unusual way of talking: halting but fast, full of digressions. She can seem scattered. But a careful listen usually reveals that she's very self-reflective. I ask again about advice, and her answer is that of a 33-year-old woman who feels she's often not taken seriously enough and who shrugs off overprotective concern.
"To be honest with you, I really don't listen to most of them," she says. "I want people to understand that the choices I make are the choices that are best for me. Like, if I buy a dog, it's for my companionship, for me to have somebody that's there when nobody else is. Or if I want to go out to see a movie, I want to be able to make these choices without somebody saying, 'Well, this is something you shouldn't go see because of this reason and that reason.' "
A friend warned her not to see the movie If I Stay in which a teenage girl, the only survivor of her family's car crash, has an out-of-body experience and weighs whether she wants to live. "But I found it to be liberating and quite good," she says.
Like a college freshman, Knight is trying on ideas about her future. She'd like to own a restaurant someday. For now, she wants to resume cooking classes, which she didn't finish due to her travels. She is recording a song she wrote, "Starlight," about her experiences. She wants to be a boxer, even though she's only 4-foot-5.
"I'm really not afraid at all," she says. "The person I was held captive by was taller than [me], and I took him down."
Knight still aims to help others who've endured suffering like hers. "I want them to know that they can have the same courage and strength that I did to overcome anything, no matter how hard it is," she tells me. "And life is hard."
She doesn't just mean missing people. "I'm talking about everybody that has pain," she says. "I know what it feels like to be trapped, mentally and physically, to where I can't move, I can't function."
Other well-known former abductees have emerged as advocates. Jaycee Dugard, rescued in 2009 from an 18-year captivity in California, now runs a foundation that helps families recovering from abduction, natural disaster and difficult transitions from military to civilian life. Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped at age 14 in Utah and recovered nine months later in 2003, has testified before Congress and advocated for sexual-abuse victims and the prevention of crimes against children.
Arroyo, the Guardian Angel, says he hopes Knight, Berry and DeJesus all become advocates for the missing someday. "Those are the people who are able to tell police and organizations what to look for," he says. "Their advice is more important than any other specialist." But, he adds, if Knight "wants to be good ole Lily from the neighborhood, I'll support her."
One of Finding Me 's most disturbing revelations is how frequently Knight says Castro took her from his house into the backyard, where her chances of rescue were greater. In one harrowing scene, Castro dressed her in a wig and huge sunglasses, slipped his gun into his back pocket and took her outside. On a cold day, she wasn't wearing a coat. A neighbor saw them both but said nothing. Knight hoped the strange scene would bother the neighbor enough to call the police, but nothing happened.
Knight tells me that Castro would send her behind the house to work on the yard or on his cars. She says he guarded her closely, always carrying his gun, sometimes standing just inside the door and listening in case her creaky pushcart stopped moving. She says she tried to signal neighbors to call 911 — flashing nine fingers, then one finger, then one finger, then pantomiming a phone call by raising her hand to her head with her thumb and pinky finger out. But if anyone saw her — and it's hard for her to say, given her bad eyesight — no one rescued her.
I ask Knight the question that haunted Clevelanders after Castro's crimes were exposed: How could someone be held captive in a city neighborhood for nearly 11 years?
"We overlook things that we can't explain," Knight says. "You don't want to ignore anything that you see odd or out of place."
In her book, Knight recounts being chained and gagged in the basement and hearing relatives visit Castro, one of whom asked him to unlock the basement door. She wishes his family had read the signs and called the police: "the boarded-up windows, the chains, the alarms, the couch cushions and couches sitting in a hallway, crammed up in one area so you can't get into a place, doors locked."
Knight wants to help police get better at finding the missing. She, better than anyone, knows what Cleveland learned after Anthony Sowell's serial murders, that missing adults are not searched for as intensely as missing teens and children.
"They need to understand an adult could be missing the same way a child can," she says. (Cleveland deputy police chief Ed Tomba, who took a leadership role in the Castro investigation, says Knight is "more than welcome to help us out and provide any type of insight she may have.")
Knight still wants to be a motivational speaker, a goal she announced on Seymour Avenue the day Castro's house was demolished.
"Slowly but surely, I'll start to talk to people," she says.
Her song, "Starlight," is meant "for every person out there that ever felt bullied, mistreated, abused," she says, "to understand that they've got the same strength to overcome those obstacles, like I did."
Knight's message is a simple one, learned by many people who have suffered before her: Even those who cannot escape suffering can choose their answer to it.
"Terrible things can strike at any point in time," she says. "So live your life while you can, and always remember that it's not the situation that happens to you in life, it's what you do about it. Because if you choose to live in the darkness, you're going to let it consume who you are."
Governor signs bill requiring annual child abuse reporting training
by Matthias Gafni
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday requiring that all California teachers and school employees receive annual child abuse reporting training.
Spurred by more than two years of this newspaper's reports on incidents where school employees failed to properly report child abuse, Assembly Bill 1432 will change state law from "strongly encouraging" training to making it mandatory within the first six weeks of each year for certificated and classified workers. The requirement will begin next school year.
"We've seen too many tragic cases in recent years," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, the author of the bill. "Anyone who cares (about preventing child abuse) thought about what could make this system better."
While the law has no formal punishment against districts that fail to train teachers and employees or fail to properly report abuse, it establishes a "statutory standard of care" that leaves a district open to increased liability in a lawsuit, Gatto said.
He added that the bill's intent is to not allow an employee to work until the training is completed within the allowed time period.
The state superintendent's office will create a uniform training program that will be made available to all districts by Jan. 1, 2015.
"I really think this bill was a product of many elements of society working together, and a big portion of this came from the reporting done from your consortium of newspapers," Gatto said in a phone interview.
A Bay Area News Group survey last year found that fewer than half of 94 Bay Area school districts trained their employees on the identification and reporting of child abuse. The survey also found that training standards varied by district.
The newspaper reported on cases of unreported physical and sexual abuse by teachers in Bay Area school districts, including cover-ups of reported incidents, investigations of abuse by district leaders instead of police and obfuscation of other agencies' investigations.
The required training must include a reminder that failure to timely report suspected child abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of $1,000, or both.
The Contra Costa Child Abuse Prevention Council, which offers free training to school districts and other agencies, hopes the law will spur increased participation in its program throughout the East Bay.
"I think it's a great law," Director Carol Carillo said. "Any effort to encourage and help school staff train on how to report child abuse is great."
Carillo said it's important that the training go beyond online courses to include discussions about reporting child abuse.
Her agency expects to work with more than a dozen school districts by the end of this calendar year, including a juvenile hall and detention center.
"We're hoping in Contra Costa to engage with other school districts that we haven't been involved with and maybe expand into cities and youth organizations," she said.
Colton Turner's family says they want new law
by Sophia Beausoleil
AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday for more than eight hours, state lawmakers met at the Capitol, heard and discussed ways to cut down the number of abuse and neglect cases that lead to child deaths in the state. During public comments, they also heard from Colton Turner's great aunt, who said she wants to change policy.
“We told them we did not know Megan's location, but that Colton was in serious, serious danger.” said Raquel Helfrich, whose 2-year-old great nephew's body was found in a shallow grave in Southeast Austin. Helfrich's niece, Megan Work, is Colton's mother. She remains in jail on charges of tampering with evidence along with her boyfriend, Micahael Turner who is in jail too. Their first court date is October 30th.
“When I found out it only took the police two days to locate him, Colton, once they were notified, I didn't understand why it took CPS all these months,” said Helfrich who said she and her husband contacted Child Protective Services in May after they received pictures of Colton with bruises on his body.
Helfrich said she believes her niece knew CPS was looking for her from a prior open investigation and was constantly on the move so they couldn't find her. She said she couldn't file a missing child report since she was not the legal guardian of the two-year-old.
Colton's great aunt said she feared that he might die, but is now directing her pain to try and change the way the state handles cases. Helfrich said ‘Colton's Law' would act as a safety net for kids who can't be located after or during a CPS investigation.
“What I wanted to do was help push for a law that's put into place so that if there's an un traceable child, rather than have everybody refer you to CPS for case workers to look for a missing child, it would automatically push to a state law enforcement agency to locate that child.”
The Department of Family Protective Services states on its website that if there's not enough information to find a child or their family , it goes unassigned. It's not yet known if Colton's case was labeled “unassigned” but in the coming weeks new details will shed light on how the state agency handled the open investigation and what happened the months leading up to the 2-year-olds death.
“There's no worse day for a commissioner when you find out about a child death in an open case,” said Department of Family Protective Services Commissioner John Specia who admits there were problems with the way the state handled Colton Turner.
“We will look at this case, we will learn from this case we will go forward, we made mistakes and we will be open about the mistakes we made,” said Specia who said they're coordinating with the Travis County District Attorney's Office on when to release those documents.
“If something good has to come out of this, this has to change,” said Helfrich. “This needs to be a wake up call for the system.”
State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale passed along condolences to Helfrich on behalf of Rep. Dawna Dukes, D-Austin, and the committee. Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park also said he plans on meeting with Colton's family to hear more about their ideas on what needs to change.
“As a parent myself it tugs at your heart strings when you hear these kinds of stories,” said Rep. Dale to reporters in regards to not only Colton Turners case, but other abuse and neglect incidents that happen in his district around the state. “We've determined through an outside consultant, that case workers only spend about 29 percent of their time with families and children. That's not enough time, clearly.”
DFPS said in 2013 CPS completed 160,240 cases of child abuse and or neglect. There were 804 child fatalities state wide in 2013. That number included kids in CPS, child care facilities and adoptions.
The state said 156 of those deaths were the direct result of either abuse and or neglect. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services found neglect led to 59 percent of the cases where a child died because of an unsafe sleep environment, a drowning or some sort of medical neglect. In contrast, 41 percent of cases were tied to abuse. That includes stabbing, suffocation and blunt force trauma.
Three months ago, CPS approved several changes to better manage the foster system. They include conducting extra interviews with a foster parent's friends and family and a review of the household finances. Those changes went into effect on September first.
The committee also listened to national leaders who said there's still a lot of data missing that would help contribute to strategies that would help curb child abuse and neglect deaths.
“Everybody is accountable, everybody is responsible, but we're going to do as a federal commission is try to pull it all together in terms of what needs to happen in practice, what needs to happen in policy, what changes need to happen on a regulatory and in our fiscal environment if we're going to stop these tragedies from occurring,” said Susan Dreyfus, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Children and Families. She is also a member of the Federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
“When you really get underneath these child deaths and you really look at them, it's multidisciplinary. There's no one agency that's singularly responsible, and if we're really going to get underneath this, there's a role that we all play and part of that is the data sharing that will have to go on between agencies, child welfare, the medical community, education community, law enforcement partnership is key in this,” said Dreyfus.
Click here for presentation from DFPS at Select Committee on Child Protection hearing
New initiative to cut down on sexual child abuse
by Lyndsey Price
SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Child abuse is something that can affect children of all ages. In some circles it's known as ‘the silent crime'.
Tracy Haraz is a child abuse investigator at the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office. She has handled cases with children from 3 to 16. "The last couple I've had was probably age 3 to 5. I get a lot of kids in ages that you would not think that would be happening to," he said.
Many cases reported involve the sexual abuse of a child. So far this year the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office has received calls and tips for around 80 cases. "I see a lot of sexual abuse. I see a lot of physical abuse and even physiological abuse," adds Haraz.
That's why education coordinator, Michelle Turner with the Children's Advocacy Center in Sullivan County, says they started a new initiative. "Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse." "It is a prevention program its free training it teaches them the five steps of being able to identify child abuse and how to report it," says Turner.
Turner says the CAC received a grant from the state that helps them train officers, teachers, and other community members about child abuse. "React, report, and respond effectively are the three main points that we want everybody to know," she said.
Turner calls child abuse 'the silent crime' because in the past people haven't talked about it. "When we get a report of a child abuse case it's really big for that time when it happens, but for those of us who work here, it's a headline for us every day we come to work," she said.
That's why Detective Haraz is reminding everyone that it's your duty to report any suspicions you have about child abuse. "A lot of them are afraid. They'll tell somebody that they feel like they can confide in, and if someone comes to you like that it is very, very important that you call it in," he said.
If you live in Tennessee and want to report any suspicion of child abuse you can call a hotline and remain anonymous. You can call 1-877-237-0004 or 1-877-54ABUSE (1-877-542-2873). Click here to visit the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Eric Holder Warns New Data Encryption on Phones Could Endanger Children
Attorney general criticizes tech companies for locking the back door to user data.
by Laura Ryan
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is worried new data-encryption features on phones that claim to lock out law enforcement officials could place children's lives in danger.
These kinds of measures could get in the way of a kidnapping or child-abuse investigation, according to Holder.
"When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children," Holder said during remarks Tuesday at the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online.
"It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so."
Although he did not explicitly point fingers at Apple and Google, his comments come shortly after the two tech giants unveiled new phones with enhanced encryption that deliberately make it difficult for law enforcement officials to access users' data. With this feature, data on the new models can only be unlocked by a passcode held by the phone's owner.
"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy," Holder said.
Holder's remarks echo a growing chorus of criticism from other top law enforcement officials who are concerned the police-proof security measure could keep them from investigating a crime.
"I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law," FBI Director James Comey said last week. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."
Holder said new technologies, like the cloud and mobile devices, "embolden online criminals" and make it easier for them to get away with criminal activity.
"Prevent Child Abuse" Plates Available In Oklahoma
by Associated Press
The Oklahoma State Department of Health Office of Child Abuse Prevention is offering specialty license tags to raise money to help prevent child abuse in the state.
Applications for the specialty tag called "Start Right" are available at local tag agencies.
The specialty license tag costs $35. Of every tag purchased, $20 of the proceeds will go into the child abuse prevention fund to support prevention programs across the state.
State officials say that last year, there were more than 11,400 confirmations of child abuse and/or neglect in Oklahoma.
The agency also is seeking volunteers and active participants for year-round to help plan ways to reach local communities with information about positive parenting and child abuse prevention programs in their area.
Warren County faces additional allegations of sexual abuse in sheriff's department
by Edward Sieger
Warren County faces another lawsuit over allegations of sex abuse within the Warren County Sheriff's Department.
Attorney Brad Russo filed a tort claim notice Sept. 15 with the county, alleging sexual abuse of a teenage boy, while in the custody of a sheriff's department employee.
The name of the employee has been redacted from the notice as required by state law, but the details resemble a similar claim and criminal charges filed against former county Sheriff Edward Bullock.
Authorities charged Bullock in March with three counts each of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault. The 85-year-old has since pleaded not guilty and remains free on bail, living in his Ocean County, N.J., home.
Bullock is accused of assaulting a 10-year-old boy between December 1986 and January 1988, while the boy was in Bullock's custody. A tort claim notice filed in 2012 that preceded the criminal charges alleges a county employee had transported the victim - identified only as "W.M." - from the Hackettstown Police Department to a county-run youth homeless shelter in Oxford Township.
Court papers indicate the boy had been abandoned by his father and that his mother was an alcoholic. The notice filed earlier this month notes the accuser, identified only as "C.C.", did not have a father figure in his life as his parents divorced at a very young age.
It's been unclear how many accusers there may be, but the tort claim notice filed this month references "most of the alleged victims."
The claim alleges the county employee selected C.C. from a holding cell at the Warren County Courthouse and took the boy back to his office, where he gave him back rubs and attended a court appearance. The employee then volunteered to return the boy to Warren Acres, the county's former juvenile facility, according to the claim.
The notice alleges the employee transported C.C., while he was 14 and 15, on four separate occasions in an unmarked vehicle without handcuffs during which time varying degrees of molestation occurred. In one case, the employee pulled his car to the side of the road next to the Pequest River and in another turned down a dirt road near Warren Acres and the Warren County Children's Shelter.
The tort claim notice filed in 2012 alleges that victim told a county shelter employee about the assault, only to be punched in the stomach and told never again to make such allegations. The notice filed this month alleges C.C. reported the abuse to a Warren Acres employee, who yelled at the boy and told him to "stop looking for attention."
The fourth assault allegedly took place after C.C. appeared before a county judge after running away from the Warren County Children's Shelter because he feared staff would either not believe or take no action to stop the abuse. The employee is accused of assaulting the boy on the drive back to the shelter, according to the claim.
A few days after the fourth assault, C.C. tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle pills, according to the claim. He was taken to Hackettstown Hospital for treatment and eventually transported to Carrier Clinic Behavioral Unit.
The claim accuses county employees of facilitating the abuse by assuring it did not become public and failing to report the assaults. Both claims reference the employee's known "sexual pedophiliac tendencies" of its employee; the county shelter, which has since closed, failed to report the incident or take other proper actions, according to the filings.
Michael McDonald, Warren County's first assistant prosecutor, would not comment Tuesday on whether the office is investigating further allegations against Bullock.
Neither Russo nor county attorney Joseph Bell immediately returned phone calls seeking comment, and Freeholder Director Ed Smith said he could say very little about the newest allegations.
"Anyone is free to file a tort notice against the county and it's required they do so if they intend to take legal action against the county," he said. "It's a very preliminary step in the legal process."
In statements made to a private detective working on behalf of the victim's lawyer in the civil litigation, several former county officials were aware of Bullock's reported interest in young boys. County officials are accused of "passive child sexual abuse" by failing to assist the victim and instead criticizing and chastising the child for reporting the abuse, according to the claim.
The claim seeks damages for medical expenses, costs of counseling, lost wages, trauma and "diminished childhood."
Brooklyn Tech Teacher Charged With Criminal Sexual Acts Against Students Held On Bail
NEW YORK – A Brooklyn Technical High School teacher accused of sending an explicit photograph to a student is now being held on $750,000 bond after being charged with more than 36 additional sexual crimes against students.
Sean Shaynak, 44, was in court Tuesday for allegedly sending a nude picture of himself to a 16-year-old female student when police charged him with the 36 new counts, including kidnapping and criminal sexual acts.
He pleaded not guilty in August to charges including dissemination of indecent material to a minor. On Tuesday, Shaynak pleaded not guilty to the new charges. Bail was also set at $250,000 for the previous charge.
Investigators seized three computers and two phones and discovered thousands of text messages, as well as hundreds of photographs and videos, after the East Flatbush man's Aug. 26 arrest , according to prosecutors.
An investigation revealed that Shaynak had allegedly victimized six teenage girls, ranging in age from 13 to 19, between 2011 and 2014, prosecutors said.
“It is shocking that a public high school teacher allegedly sexually preyed on vulnerable students. We will now seek to vindicate the rights of those students,” stated Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson.
Prosecutors allege Shaynak asked two girls to have sex with each other, took a 15-year-old student to a nude beach in New Jersey without her parents' consent, sent explicit photos to four students, inappropriately touched and kissed students, and gave alcohol and cigarettes to minors.
Shaynak is also charged with reckless endangerment and menacing for allegedly terrorizing a former student with whom he had a prior relationship, prosecutors said.
“These alleged actions are completely unacceptable and have no place in, or outside of, our schools,” City Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye said. “The DOE took swift action to immediately reassign Mr. Shaynak following his initial arrest. He is not, and will not be, in contact with students. Student safety remains our top priority.”