| Today's NAASCA news:
March 8, 2014
Vt. schools implement child abuse prevention programs
by Shelby Cashman
SOUTH HERO, Vt. -- Prevent Child Abuse Vermont has developed programs specifically for schools with the goal of ending the generational cycle of child abuse. These programs are not limited to students. They train all who interact with children on methods to prevent abuse and empower children to be heard.
"Our objective today is to explore the role everyone can play in preventing sexual harassment and abuse in particular," said Mary Ann Fisher, a Folsom school counselor.
It's 2014, but the children here are dressed up in their favorite decade. It's called "Decade Day" at Folsom School in South Hero. Eighth-grade students are talking about a topic that has spanned for decades-- child sexual abuse.
"This year we've focused a lot more, as you know, on some of the more hard and difficult subjects of sexual abuse," said Fisher.
Fisher has been teaching the SAFE-T, or the Sexual Abuse Free Environment for Teens program, developed by Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, for 15 years.
"What I really like about it particularly at our school, is that it gets kids thinking ahead of time about the relationships they're going to be facing," said Fisher.
Prevent Child Abuse Vermont began developing programs for schools after noticing a trend.
The Department for Children and Families Reports in 2012:
41 percent of sexual abusers were under the age of 20
Most of those abusers were between the ages of 12 and 19
22 percent were from ages 20 to 30
21 percent from ages 30 to 40
17 percent were over the age of 40
The group has implemented the SAFE-T program in about half of the middle schools across the state, reaching almost 5,000 students and the group says that it's working.
"We actually had a six-year scientific evaluation by the University of New Hampshire at Durham, the Crimes Against Children's Center that showed that SAFE-T is highly effective, especially with building empathy and knowledge about child sexual abuse," said Linda Johnson, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.
SAFE-T focuses on a wide array of topics including consent, the power of saying no, and not being afraid to speak up if something doesn't feel right.
"We're making these brochures where we pick a topic and we write that on the front and we can draw a little picture. So I'm doing consent and basically consent is having a mutual agreement between two people, so like asking permission to do something," said Folsom student Oliver Kowalewitz.
Prevent Child Abuse Vermont has 14 specialized programs for children of all ages, as well as programs specifically for parents and educators. Through their partnerships with the Department of Children and Families and various other agencies across the state, the group says they directly served about 17,000 people last year.
Program to tackle child sex abuse
Churches want children kept safe
by Ruth Ingram
Mississippi church leaders, employees and volunteers need tools to equip them in preventing sexual abuse of children — and to ensure children's safety by keeping would-be perpetrators from coming through the church doors in the first place.
Organizers of an April 29 conference open to all religious denominations hope that information will change mindsets, raise awareness and empower pastors to operate ministries free from child molestation.
The host site: Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, which for years employed as music minister now-convicted child sex offender John Langworthy, who admitted during a service at the church in August 2011 that he molested young boys in Texas and the Jackson area more than 20 years ago.
Langworthy last year pleaded guilty to five felony gratification of lust charges involving five boys ages 10-13 between April 1980 and December 1984. He received no jail time.
But his is not the only recent case of alleged or proven sexual abuse of Mississippi children by church employees, volunteers or ministers in a position of trust.
In February, a Raymond Road Baptist Church employee from Clinton was arrested on one count of gratification of lust. Adam Epperson, 34, who also was formerly employed at Central Hinds Academy, was arrested following accusations by a male youth associated with Epperson through church and school.
In November 2013, former WLBT-TV meteorologist Eric Law pleaded guilty to sexual battery of a 15-year-old girl and was sentenced to eight years in prison after admitting he repeatedly had sex with the teen at his home. Although Law wasn't employed by a church, he said on his Google+ blog that he and his wife “serve as uncle and aunt to many kids from church.”
And in December 2012, the 71-year-old pastor of Bay Springs Baptist Church in Tate County was indicted on child sex charges and held on $1 million bond. Larry Singleton is accused of abusing from age 11 a boy who's now 18.
“Reacting to abuse is not enough,” said Chrystelle Thames, director of public relations at the Baptist Children's Village, which is sponsoring the program with the Christian Action Commission of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
“The Baptist Children's Village wants to be proactive in the prevention of all abuse which we know and understand can cause lifelong pain. We are offering this event to educate and provide pastors and church leaders with the facts and the tools necessary to prevent abuse.”
They've put together a lineup of speakers for the 10 a.m to 3 p.m. event at Morrison Heights, off I-20 at Springridge Road in Clinton. They include Fort Worth attorney Gregory Love, co-founder and director of MinistrySafe and Abuse Prevention Systems. He will identify commonly held misconceptions about sexual abuse and abusers and provide facts about abuser characteristics.
Also speaking will be the Rev. Brad Eubank, pastor of First Baptist Church in Petal and a survivor of clergy sex abuse.
“My prayer is that by sharing about God's grace in my experience, I will be able to help other victims and their families find help, healing and hope and that I will be able to save and protect children by empowering those around them,” Eubank said.
Angie McLeod Williams of the state Department of Human Services' Division of Family and Children's Services will explain what happens when someone reports known or suspected abuse, from what information needs to be conveyed to law enforcement to what happens after the person reporting hangs up the phone.
Amy Smith of Dallas, the Dallas-area leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was instrumental in Langworthy's arrest and conviction. “We applaud the Baptist Children's Village and Morrison Heights for hosting this important conference,” Smith said.
“It is critical that people in our churches and communities become more educated and aware of the systemic child sexual abuse happening in our midst, in places that kids should be the safest. When churches and other trusted institutions protect the perpetrators and silence the victims, kids are not safe."
Activist leads charge for child sexual abuse law
by Anna Johnson
CARTHAGE — A native Carthaginian is heading the effort to enact a North Carolina law requiring children to be educated about the threat of sexual abuse.
After sexual abuse impacted Sonya McTillman's family, she began looking for ways to prevent children from being abused and to educate children about the threat of sexual assault. To prevent families from facing a similar tragedy, McTillman said she wants to enact Erin's Law in North Carolina.
“Erin's Law requires public school systems to hold an annual sexual abuse prevention curriculum for students and staff,” she said.
Erin's Law is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois woman who was sexually abused as a child and has since made it her crusade to educate children about sexual abuse. It has been passed in 10 states, and the bill has been introduced or scheduled to be introduced in 27 other states, including North Carolina.
N.C. Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, announced in February her intention to introduce the bill when the General Assembly reconvenes in May. In the coming months, McTillman said she intends to travel to Central Carolina to give presentations about the law, and she encouraged Lee County residents to contact their local representatives to express their support.
“We anticipate bipartisan support for this bill,” she said. “We don't think we'll have any trouble passing this bill because it is in the best interest of the children.”
The curriculum would be rooted in the Greensboro-based Bee Wise Kids program, which has been used in faith-based settings for the last six years, McTillman said. The program could be tweaked for secular use and should cost little to implement, she said.
The law is desperately needed in North Carolina, McTillman said, because one in 10 children is sexually abused before the age of 18 and it costs North Carolina more than $845 million per year in long-term expenses and losses attributed to child sexual abuse.
More information about Erin's Law in North Carolina can be found at www.beewisekids.org.
Why did stories on dog picture, child sex abuse elicit much different reactions?
by Alyssa Rosenberg
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The photo of a dog hanging has gotten a lot of attention over the past few days. The story on our website got 132 comments and nearly 40,000 reads in just 48 hours.
But why did a story about a couple facing more than 100 sex crimes with a child got far less reaction? And why are some comments even more violent than the alleged offenses?
We asked a clinical psychologist for insight.
Extreme comments were not hard to find on our stories about the dog being hanged from a ceiling and the couple charged with the crimes with a child.
Doxie lover posted on the dog abuse story, "This is SO SICKENING! What kind of MONSTERS would do this. I hope anyone involved in stringing this poor puppy up like this BURN IN HELL!"
And Dirk Diglr had this to say about the two charged with sex crimes: "Its a shame public hangings are no longer allowed. These 2 would be perfect candidates. I hope the die a long miserable, suffering, painful death."
Clinical psychologist and UNCW professor Dr. Kate Nooner says there may be a few reasons for the violent comments.
"Being online and having that level of privacy kind of makes you willing to say things that are bigger than what you would say in another context, and also, the second part, is people feel like, well you did something against a harmless creature, so it's justified for me to harm you," Dr. Nooner said.
She says it's human nature to react like this.
"Our natural reaction when something wrong happens, our emotions run high, and if something violent happens responding with aggression is kind of the natural emotion that comes out," Nooner said.
But why would this picture elicit more emotion than a child investigators say was abused for nearly a decade? It is something that outraged Sad Man, who wrote: "What's really sad is that this story only had three comments, and the stupid dog hanging from its harness for a few seconds has 132 comments of outrage.What's really sad is that we have twisted priorities that put a dog, or any animal, above a child."
Dr. Nooner says there may be a reason for this.
"Thinking of harmful things, especially sexual abuse happening to children, is so terrifying that they don't even want to click and look at a story on it," she said.
Dr. Nooner says when it comes to dealing with something violent, aggression usually is not helpful and can make things worse.
On A Single Day, Nearly 10,000 Domestic Violence Victims Couldn't Get The Help They Needed
by Bryce Covert
On a single day last year, domestic violence support programs were unable to meet 9,641 requests for help, from emergency shelter to legal representation, according to the latest census from the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “This means that over 9,000 times an advocate was forced to tell a courageous caller or person at the door that, unfortunately, there was no bed, counselor, or attorney available to help,” the report notes.
The organization attributes this unmet need to the financial situation of the country's domestic violence programs. More than a quarter say that they couldn't provide the support because of cuts in government spending and 20 percent said it was because of staff reductions. Nearly 1,700 staff positions were eliminated across the country last year.
Of the unmet needs, the most, or 42 percent, were for emergency shelter. “[I]n most places, the demand for emergency shelter is outpacing the availability,” the report notes, as more than 4,000 requests went unmet. Nearly 200 programs had to reduce or eliminate emergency housing last year. This leaves many victims in extreme danger. As an Oregon advocate relates in the report, the program got a call on its 24-hour crisis line requesting emergency shelter. “She was fleeing from her abuser, who had found her at her sister's house and assaulted her so badly she ended up in the hospital,” the advocate says. “Unfortunately, we have no shelter space available, and she has nowhere to go.”
Another 40 percent of unmet needs were for services that weren't related to housing, and 18 percent were for transitional housing. Transitional housing can be critical for getting victims back on their feet as they leave emergency shelter, but only 42 percent of programs are able to provide it and 71 had to reduce or eliminate this service in the past year.
Low funding and staff led programs to cut back on other services. Ninety-four reduced or eliminated transportation services, but many victims don't have cars or money for gas to get to shelters. An advocate in Rhode Island reported that a woman who had been severely beaten by her husband and was living in a homeless shelter needed a confidential shelter so he couldn't find her. “We were full and the only shelter with space available was a few states away,” the advocate said. “Unfortunately, we didn't have any transportation funds to get her to that shelter.” Sixty-nine cut back on legal representation, but victims often need support in navigating the legal system.
When these programs were asked what happens most often when survivors are turned away from services, 60 percent said they return to their abusers, and another 27 percent said they become homeless.
This is NNEDV's eighth census, a snapshot of domestic violence needs and services around the country conducted on September 17, 2013. The good news is that 66,581 adults and children received the services they needed.
But domestic violence shelters and programs have been dealing with reduced funding for some time. They suffered a severe drop last year under sequestration when the automatic budget cuts took a $20 million chunk out of their funding. Yet even before those cuts took place, programs were grappling with smaller budgets. In 2012, nearly 80 percent said they were getting lower government funding and many were also getting less money from private sources of funding. That meant 43 percent had to reduce their services, even as most shelters reported an increase in demand as well as the severity of abuse.
The consequences can't be overstated. As one program in California told ThinkProgress, “As [services] get cut we're going to see more and more homicides.”
Pregnant mom who drove kids into ocean at Daytona Beach charged with attempted murder
Ebony Wilkerson, 32 - who is nearly seven months pregnant - was booked on a litany of charges that included attempted murder for wildly driving into the surf with her three children in the vehicle on Tuesday. Police said she told the children, ages 10, 9 and 3, that she was 'taking them to a better place.'
by Joe Kemp
The pregnant mother who wildly drove her three children into the surf at a Florida beach was booked on a slew of charges that included attempted murder and child abuse, authorities said.
Ebony Wilkerson, 32, was arrested after her release Friday from a local hospital, where she has been under evaluation since the apparent murder-suicide bid at Daytona Beach, authorities said.
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson told reporters that Wilkerson was cuffed after several interviews with the woman's children — ages 10, 9 and 3 — and several witnesses.
“She actually told them to close their eyes and go to sleep, ‘I'm taking you to a better place,'” Johnson said. “The fact that she did intentionally try to kill the children...this is a tragic event.”
Wilkerson, who is nearly seven months pregnant, was driving erratically along the shoreline near Silver Beach Ave. when she suddenly veered into the ocean on Tuesday.
“Her son was actually trying to fight her for the steering wheel,” Johnson said.
As soon as the minivan plunged into the water, a group of lifeguards rushed into the water and braved the rolling waves to pluck the screaming kids from the abandoned van.
“The two in the backseat was crying with their arms out, saying: ‘Our mommy's trying to kill us, please help,'” Tim Tesseneer, who helped rescue the wailing children, told WESH-TV.
The terrifying ordeal happened just moments after Wilkerson, who was visiting from South Carolina, was pulled over by police — who tracked the woman down after a frantic call from her sister, authorities said.
The sister told the 911 dispatcher that Wilkerson wigged out inside her Daytona Beach home before putting her kids in the minivan and speeding away.
“She's talking about Jesus, that there's demons in the house,” the sister told the operator, according to a recording of the call obtained by WESH-TV.
“She's got the kids in the car with her.”
Police they pulled her over a short time later, but because the woman showed no signs of causing harm to herself or anyone else, the officers had no reasonable cause to take her into custody, Johnson said.
Soon after Wilkerson was allowed to get back on the road, she drove her van into the ocean.
The wild-eyed mother managed to hop out of the van and tried to stop the lifeguards from rescuing her children, Johnson said.
Wilkerson was taken to a hospital, where she underwent a psychiatric evaluation. Her children were placed temporarily with the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Officials with the agency are working with the South Carolina Department of Social Services, which is investigating any possible abuse history in the family.
Johnson said the father of the children has yet to show up to talk to investigators, but the mother has calmly denied the charges.
“She's denying that she was trying to harm the children,” said Johnson, adding that the woman had been “very calm and collected” during her interviews.
Investigators found no evidence of any prior mental illness history, Johnson said. But it was not immediately clear if alcohol or drugs were involved.
Wilkerson was scheduled to appear in court on Saturday.
Johnson said it was important to make sure the charges were enough to keep her in jail for a long time.
“We're going to make sure this doesn't happen again involving these children,” he said.
The arrest came after it was revealed that Wilkerson had been involved in another deadly accident.
Court records obtained by The Post and Courier show that Wilkerson was connected to a fatal car accident in Delray Beach in 2007.
Wilkerson was cited for making an improper lane change — which caused another car to crash into a concrete barrier, the paper reported on Friday.
The car's passenger, 35-year-old Jennifer Krane, died from her injuries two weeks later.
Detroit police officer charged with sexually assaulting woman while responding to call
by Gina Damron
The woman called 911, seeking help from police after reportedly being assaulted by her boyfriend.
But while police responded to the domestic violence call, one of the officers allegedly took the woman into an upstairs bedroom and sexually assaulted her, authorities said.
Detroit Police Officer Deon Nunlee has been charged in the alleged Oct. 30 assault of a 31-year-old woman. Police said DNA connected Nunlee to the assault.
“I'm troubled,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said at a news conference Friday. “Certainly, this is the type of criminal misconduct that should never happen by any member of this department, or any department for that matter.”
Nunlee, 40, has been charged with three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count each of assault with intent to penetrate and misconduct in office, according to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.
Prosecutors said Nunlee and his partner were dispatched to an early-morning domestic violence run on the 16000 block of Asbury Park, where the woman said she had been assaulted by her boyfriend.
According to the prosecutor's office, Nunlee took the woman upstairs and his partner stayed with the boyfriend downstairs.
“It is alleged that when Nunlee was in an upstairs bedroom with the woman, he sexually assaulted her,” according to the prosecutor's office. “While they were alone upstairs, Nunlee indicated he would be coming back to the house later at 7 a.m.”
Police said Nunlee did not return.
According to the prosecutor's office, the woman reported the alleged assault to police the next day.
Craig said the other officer at the scene did nothing wrong. He said that in domestic dispute situations, officers do keep parties at safe distance, but in this case, they were in different parts of the home. For officer safety, Craig said, “an officer should never lose line of sight of their partner.”
Cmdr. Johnny Thomas of the department's professional standards bureau said that when the woman reported the alleged assault to police on Oct. 31, Nunlee was placed on administrative duties. On. Feb. 10, after results from the rape kit came back, Nunlee was suspended without pay, Thomas said.
Asked whether Nunlee denied the allegation, Thomas said Nunlee was given his Miranda warning and took his right to remain silent.
Nunlee was arraigned Friday in Detroit's 36th District Court. His preliminary examination is scheduled for April 17.
Nunlee, who was working in the 8th Precinct, has been on the force since 2008 and previously had minor misconducts, police said.
Craig said this incident is not a reflection of the department.
“This is an anomaly. This is not what our police officers do,” Craig said. “This officer who decided to engage in criminal misconduct does not represent the 2,500 or so sworn men and women who wear this uniform.”
Nunlee is the third Detroit police officer to face charges this month.
~ On Wednesday, Detroit Police Officer Johnny Ray Bridges, 47, was charged with unlawful imprisonment, assault with intent to do great bodily harm, domestic violence and reckless discharge of a firearm in connection with the assault of a 31-year-old woman on Monday. According to the prosecutor's office, Bridges was off duty when he got into an argument with the woman, fired a handgun in the air and punched and kicked her in her face and body. Prosecutors said both had been drinking.
~ Suspended Detroit Police Officer Dana Bond, 41, is facing misdemeanor charges of high blood-alcohol content, failure to stop at the scene of a personal injury accident, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident with property damage. Bond is accused of driving while intoxicated and getting into an accident on Sunday. Bond was already suspended without pay at the time of the accident because she is facing retail fraud charges for allegedly stealing wine and food from stores in Detroit.
On Friday, before the news conference, Craig said the department “will always vigorously investigate any allegations of misconduct.”