| Today's NAASCA news:
May 18, 2013
Vermont lengthens statute of limitations for sex crimes against children
by Abigail Bleck
"A significant number of people go into their 30s, 40s and even 50s before they decide to come forward or even remember of the sexual abuse," explains Mark Lyman of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, in Albany.
Vermont, however, accomplished what New York has not. Just this week in Montpelier, the House and Senate increased the statute of limitations for sexual abuse against a child from 24 years to 40.
"This is clearly having an effect on our ability to protect today's children and really to do something about it," says Christina Rainville, Bennington County's Chief Deputy State's Attorney and the prosecutor who helped legislators draft the bill.
Rainville believes the change was necessary because children are often too fearful to report abuse at the hands of an authority figure. They also don't always realize--or remember--that it occurred, especially with young children. And for those who do, reliving the pain necessary for a successful prosecution isn't always possible.
"A huge percentage develop PTSD. They physically and neurologically aren't capable of dealing with the trauma. They can't talk and anything that reminds them sets off the triggers," adds Rainville.
Back in Albany, where the Legislative Session is nearing wraps, Lyman hopes New York notes and acts after Montpelier's progress.
"We need it. We've been asking for this legislation for many years but the time has come. We need this legislation now."
Vermont's Governor Peter Shumlin has not signed the bill yet but according to Rainville, she hasn't heard that he won't.
In previous years, New York's Assembly approved a statute of limitations change but the Senate did not.
Sexual abuse advocates say no statute of limitations at all would be best and also laws that allow for retroactive prosecution.
If you see signs of child abuse, remember Larry
by Rekha Basu
Nineteen years ago on Christmas Day, Larry Wohlgemuth, then 40, tied cinder blocks around his waist, put a gun in his mouth, and perched on the side of his fishing boat.
“There had been so much pain that I'd finally reached my limit,” Wohlgemuth would write in a stunning, first-person book called “Larry Tells Stories” that recently was self-published.
The pain was physical and emotional, inflicted by parents and relatives. It led to a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse, womanizing, and inability to find happiness in a marriage. He had enlisted in the military and drifted through jobs in technical support, sales and restaurant management, but eventually, post-traumatic stress disorder left him barely functioning.
This was him at the time of his intended suicide: “If I managed to fall asleep at night, I'd wake up screaming with nightmares. I had panic attacks that were so severe I'd lose all bowel and bladder control. If people were behind me where I couldn't see them, it caused unbearable anxiety. If someone came up behind me unnoticed, I would jump out of my skin.”
But he couldn't pull the trigger.
It's not often you get such an intimate survivor's account, especially from male victims, of the types of assaults against children that increasingly make news. It's tough to read, but knowing there is a happy ending helps, as does the conversational writing style, which is like a friend talking. (The book is available from Amazon.com.)
Larry says he was raped by his father's stepfather, starting when Larry was 3 and spent days being cared for at his grandparents' house. The man threatened to drill holes in his head and cut off his arm if he told anyone. Because it took place in the garage, the tools were brandished as weapons. If his grandmother heard his screams, she never responded.
She knew, however. So, eventually, did Larry's parents, when he told them at age 5. No one had picked up on the rectal bleeding that had him seeing a doctor. His parents would confront the older couple, but later resumed sending Larry back to his offender.
“Dad threw me back into the hands of a pedophile to resolve their financial situation,” he wrote. To justify doing so, his mother told the neighbors — in whom she had earlier confided about the abuse — that Larry had made it up.
At home, his father's heavy drinking and fits of rage would lead to weekly physical assaults. Larry's mother made him the sacrificial lamb to protect his siblings. His mother only would intervene to prevent suspicious marks on his face.
Then came her “brainwashing” sessions — saying it wasn't so bad, that his father did it because he loved him, and that Larry was strong enough to take it.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's adverse childhood experiences study surveyed 17,000 general patients about their childhoods, focusing on disruptive events including abuse, neglect, household substance use or mental illness; violence against the mother and parental divorce. Fifteen percent of women and 9 percent of men had four or more such experiences, which are considered major risk factors for everything from cognitive impairment to risky behaviors, illness and early death.
Larry's therapist, Rich Joens, who estimates he has worked with 1,000 sexual and physical abuse survivors, calls Larry's improvement “somewhat miraculous.”
“I've told Larry, ‘It's amazing you're not in prison,'” Joens said. “It's amazing that he hasn't killed somebody.”
Larry, now 59, speaks to other victims, offenders and sex-abuse counselors. “I tell them, ‘There's help out there and you can get it,' ” he said.
When he began remembering what happened to him, he sought corroborating evidence, including his childhood medical records. Through light therapy called EMDR, he was able to experience the flashbacks without the trauma, and work through them. PTSD is a common response to childhood abuse, Joens said, but it frequently is misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia.
Larry says he has forgiven his parents because that's what you do “if you don't want to die out of meanness and rage.” He said both had been witnesses to or victims of abuse growing up. A psychiatrist told Larry his mother probably expected it — even finding a husband who would treat her the way her father had.
His story is a wake-up call to parents, friends, relatives and bystanders to help stop the cycle when we see signs of abuse.
How to ask a child about possible abuse or sexual abuse
by Ruth Heiser
If you have cause for suspicion and talk to the child, try to remain calm and be careful not to show shock, disgust, anger, pain or blame. Just calmly say you would like to hear more about it and offer neutral responses or appreciate the child for being brave and talking about it. If you immediately blame the abuser a child may silence themselves in order to protect someone and the abuse could continue. Do not use phrases like, “let them do that” or the child, himself, feels blamed and will be silenced as well as traumatized a second time by being blamed. Do not create trauma or increase it. Skip the drama and avoid additional trauma.
Don't use words like abuse or sexual abuse since the term is defined differently by different people and is vague. Ask instead if someone has touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable or if they were made to do or see something that made them feel “yucky” or if someone hurt them.
In instances where there is visible trauma or bruising to the genitals, excessive masturbation or chronic, recurring urinary tract infections, sexual abuse needs to be seriously considered and medically investigated. Some kinds of damage are not visible without an internal examination by a physician and caution must be taken about doing such an exam since it can seem so similar to the abuse itself.
Certain sleep disturbances also need to be watched for and if a child fears or refuses to sleep except in unusual places like under the bed or in a closet or in a brightly lit living room, it is crucial to learn what is frightening about sleeping in bed.
There are many signs or clues to be observant for with the cautious reminder that there may be more than one way for a child to develop them. Symptoms are important whatever the cause, so look into the situation and talk to the child you are concerned about. It may be time to have a talk about how our bodies are personal property and children have a right to be safe and to feel safe. Mention that this can happen with people we know and care about since the stranger danger is significantly smaller than the risk with people who appear regularly in a child's every day life. To repeatedly abuse a child it is necessary to have repeated access.
Please also remember to prepare your kids. Don't scare your kids. Just empower them with the knowledge that they are allowed to say no to those who want to touch them or view them or put them on display or make them do things they do not want to do and to tell a trusted adult about it.
Ruth Heiser is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health and Counselor at the Behavior Management Systems' office in Spearfish. Contact her at 642-2777.
Series: Advocacy center aids victims of child abuse
by DEDE BILES
Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series on child sex abuse. On Sunday, the Aiken Standard looks at protecting child abuse victims and prosecuting the abusers .
Child sexual abuse is much more common than most people realize. One in four girls and one in six boys will be molested before the age of 18, according to Darkness to Light, an organization dedicated to ending the problem.
Occasionally, a case will generate headlines. Last month in Aiken, Harold B. Cartwright III of Trenton was sentenced to 40 years in prison after being found guilty of routinely raping three girls from 1989 until 2011.
But child sexual abuse is an issue that usually remains under the general public's radar because “it's not something that people talk about very often,” said Gayle Lofgren, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County.
Many young sexual abuse victims remain silent. Statistics show that 73 percent of the children who are sexually abused don't tell anyone for at least a year. Forty-five percent don't talk about it for at least five years, and some never disclose that it happened.
Fortunately, Aiken County's leaders recognized the issue's importance. The Advocacy Center, established in the mid-2000s as a nonprofit organization, was the result of a collaborative community effort after it became clear that there were deficiencies in the local system for dealing with victims of child abuse.
Barbara Morgan was the solicitor for South Carolina's Second Judicial District when the process to create the Advocacy Center started around 2001.
“One of my assistants who handled child abuse cases, Brenda Brisbin, brought the problem to my attention,” Morgan remembered. “She told me that we had a crisis because the resources we needed weren't here and kids weren't getting taken care of appropriately.”
Traumatized youngsters had to tell their stories multiple times. They had to wait hours in emergency rooms to be examined. They were questioned in law enforcement interrogation rooms and the back of patrol cars.
“We've got to fix this,” Morgan concluded.
A series of meetings followed between representatives of the Solicitor's Office, school system, law enforcement, social services and various health and children's organizations. During discussions, the concept of a child advocacy center emerged.
“We determined that we needed a building that was really child-friendly, a place where children would feel safe,” said Robert Alexander, who was the Center's first board chairman.
Temporary arrangements were made so the Advocacy Center could be launched. Meanwhile, efforts began to seek grants and tax funds along with donations of money, services and land.
“We were able to raise nearly $1 million,” Morgan said.
The construction of the Center's permanent home on Trolley Line Road started in 2007 and was completed the following year. By design, the finished building looked more like a home than an office. Inside, there were rooms filled with comfortable furniture and toys.
Today, the Advocacy Center has a staff of six and an annual budget of approximately $400,000.
“I think it's been a splendid success,” Alexander said, “and the reason that it's been so successful is because people are not willing – thank God – to tolerate children being treated the way they are in some instances.”
The Department of Social Services and law enforcement personnel refer children and teenagers to the Advocacy Center. Its clients generally range in age from 3 to 17, but sometimes cases involve vulnerable adults who are mentally and/or physically challenged. In 2012, the Center's staff conducted 330 forensic interviews, 87 medical examinations and 514 therapy sessions.
The collaborative community spirit that brought the Advocacy Center into existence continues. While assisting youthful victims, the Center's staff regularly consults and cooperates with a variety of organizations. Many of them are the same ones that helped found the Center.
“We have a team of people from the community that we work with, and we meet every two weeks,” Lofgren said. “This has two purposes. One is to assist with investigations and possible prosecutions. The other is to do treatment planning for the children and their families by determining what needs they might have and how the community can best help them.”
The Advocacy Center also offers stewards of children training.
“It's a three-hour course that is adult-focused,” Lofgren said. “People learn about the signs of child sexual abuse and the things they can do to prevent it.”
To Morgan, the Advocacy Center has turned out to be something more than its developers envisioned.
“It has exceeded our expectations,” she said.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
How to Help a Child Recover From Child Abduction Trauma
by Dr. Gail Gross -- Family & Child Expert, Educator, Author. Ph.D. Ed.D.
An abduction victim's recovery is largely dependent on the relationship with their primary caretakers. Children take their lead from their parents, and if their parents cope in a positive way with an impossible situation, then their children will feel that they can recover and move forward as well. Therefore, it is very important for parents to know their children and know their children's history.
Children react to trauma in proportion to their past traumas. If they have a strong family of origin, are well-bonded and have not experienced trauma before the abduction, they are more likely to have a positive outcome. Children who have been traumatized by illness, abuse or discordant households, on the other hand, will have a more difficult time.
Listening empathically to children after a trauma, without judgment, is one of the greatest tools parents have. Through listening to their children, parents are letting them know that they are still valued and validated, regardless of what damage they may have experienced. Furthermore, by letting children express their feelings, parents give them a chance to grieve. This requires tremendous courage and composure on the part of parents, who are themselves grieving.
While listening, it is constructive to both confirm and validate what your children have been through and how they feel about it. On the other hand, never burden your children with how you feel about the trauma that they have experienced.
It is also important not to burden your children with the emotional reactions of others. If a parent or primary caretaker tells a child that everything will be all right, then he or she will believe that everything will be all right. Children take their cues from the adults around them.
Abduction and the abuse that comes from holding someone against their will may cause post-traumatic stress in victims. The insecurity that accompanies such trauma can be devastating, as children are removed from the safe and intimate world they know. Children that have been held captive in what can only be referred to as a prison mindset may now experience regressive behaviors such as insecurity, fear, hypersensitivity, sleep disorders, depression, free-floating anxiety and a heightened sense of death and destruction. Thus, helping children re-enter their families of origin can be quite difficult, and may take a considerable amount of outside counseling and time.
Parents and primary caretakers can help their children by creating a structure in which to re-establish a sense of sameness and routine. This will allow their children to, once again, feel secure.
Parents should not press their children for the details of their ordeal, but rather allow such information to unfold. Art therapy, talk therapy, music therapy and role-playing are all helpful ways for children to express the unthinkable. When words fail or cannot be used, these approaches can help children tell their painful story.
Younger children can use dolls in order to role-play what they have experienced. Art therapy, including drawing and painting, is also a way in which children can convey the unthinkable: their feelings of such terror, that words cannot lend voice to them. Outside counseling offers the proper container for such activities, to help guide parents and children through this emotional minefield.
This is the time to truly parent, compassionately and empathically. Encourage children to talk about their feelings, without pressuring them, which can only cause more anxiety and trauma. Observe your children and, with young children, observe their play. This is where they can freely act out their feelings, without attention or reprisal. Pay attention to their artwork and their schoolwork, and look for any signs of change. For all practical purposes, abducted children are going through post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, the main role that a parent has at this time is to re-establish a sense of balance, peace, calm, and security.
Make sure that you tell your children how much you love them, and how grateful you are that they are home, alive and safe. Impress upon them that there is nothing that they could have done or can ever do to make them lose your love. Explain that they were captives and it is not their fault; that they were just children and an adult took their freedom away. Then, most importantly, reassure your children that what happened to them does not define them; that what happened to them is not who they are; that they can move on with their lives. Reassure them that though some of their life was in captivity, the rest of their life will be free, and that though someone took away some of their life, they will not allow them to take anymore. Make sure that young survivors know that this is what they are: survivors. Be sure they receive professional support and counseling.
Don't allow your children to comfort you; you are the adult. For feelings of self-blame, doubt, or depression, parents should seek their own, separate professional help. Group therapy or support groups can offer invaluable assistance to parents. Adults need to garner their support and reassurance from other adults -- not to have a role-reversal with their children.
In the final analysis, the way back from the shadow is through the light. There is an ancient Jewish proverb, that when the heart is broken, it can mend -- though there will always be a scar. It is from this wound that we can offer empathy and compassion to others.
Mo. bill closes child abuse report loophole
Missouri lawmakers have Gov. Jay Nixon legislation closing a loophole in the state's mandatory child abuse reporting law.
The House and Senate both approved the measure without opposition Friday.
Missouri now requires mandatory reporters who suspect a child has been abused or neglected to "immediately report" or "cause a report to be made" to the state's Children's Division. But it also allows mandatory reporters to pass the information to another person in their organizations, for a decision on submitting the case to authorities.
The bill would require the mandatory reporter to submit the case directly to state officials.
Mandatory reporters in Missouri include such people as health care professionals, educators and social workers.
Child abuse reports is HB505
From the Department of Homeland Security
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