| Today's NAASCA news:
August 1, 2014
New Law Mandates "Age-Appropriate" Sexual Assault Education for Kids
State leaders came together today to announce a new law that requires schools to provide age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children as early as kindergarten.
Gov. Dannel Malloy signed off on “Erin's Law” last month and announced the legislation Wednesday along with Lt .Gov. Nancy Wyman, state and local leaders and representatives from Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services.
It comes just months after sexual assault survivor and activist Erin Merryn, for whom the law is named, visited Hartford, urging lawmakers to take action.
The law requires public schools to develop programs that will teach kids about sexual assault and how to protect themselves. Schools have until Oct. 1, 2015 to implement them, according to a release from Wyman's office.
"It is a shame that we have to teach these skills to our children, but I recognize that oftentimes the abuser is known by the child and the child is not sure what to do," State Rep. Diana Urban said in a statement Wednesday.
During her trip to Connecticut in March, Merryn explained the “swimsuit lesson,” which urges kids to confide in parents or trusted adults if anyone touches them in the places their bathing suits cover.
“Honestly, I think the only ones that should be against this bill are the sex offenders themselves,” she said while campaigning for the law in Hartford.
The bill made it through the State Senate last year but was halted in the House. Now, Connecticut is taking action.
“Erin's Law prioritizes efforts to give students the language and resources they need to respond to a threat or get help if they are victimized. This is important information that can help keep young people safe,” Wyman said in a statement Wednesday.
Connecticut is the 18th state to pass Erin's Law.
Sen. Sobel Calls for All Child Deaths, Not Just Those From Abuse, To Be Reported
by Margie Menzel
The Senate sponsor of Florida's sweeping new child-welfare law says she'll be back next year with a bill to expand its reporting requirements.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, said the new law doesn't go far enough in requiring all children's deaths to be reported.
The law (SB 1666), approved this spring by lawmakers, overhauled Florida's troubled child-welfare system and went into effect July 1. Among its many provisions, the law requires the state Child Abuse Death Review Committee to “prepare an annual statistical report on the incidence and causes of death resulting from reported child abuse in the state during the prior calendar year.”
However, the number of deaths “from reported child abuse” is just a fraction of the total number of child deaths, and critics say that means crimes are slipping through the cracks.
“Even a car accident could be abuse and neglect, depending on the state of the driver,” Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Thursday.
During 2012, 2,111 children under the age of 18 died in Florida, according to the Child Abuse Death Review Committee's 2013 annual report. Of those, 432 were reported to the state abuse hotline, which is housed at the Department of Children and Families. Of those, the department verified 122 deaths as being related to child abuse or neglect.
Depending on DCF's definitions for abuse and neglect, the hotline counselors screen cases in or out.
“You see variations year to year in how many abuse deaths are reported, depending on the criteria used by the hotline,” said Pam Graham, associate professor of social work at Florida State University.
Sobel said the department is screening out too many cases that, with additional scrutiny, could be determined to be child-abuse deaths.
“There's been too much of a cover-up in this state,” she said. “The Department of Children and Families should be required to report what they find.”
Her criticisms echo a Miami-Dade grand jury report in June that blasted DCF for its reporting of child deaths, noting, for instance, that the department in 2010 changed its definition of “neglect” in a way that made it apply to fewer children.
“The public does not have confidence in the accuracy of the number of child deaths reported,” grand jurors concluded. “Reported reductions in the total number of deaths may only be a consequence of changing the definitions of abuse and neglect.”
One of the grand jury recommendations was that the department should revert to its pre-2010 definition of neglect and eliminate other inconsistencies in its reporting.
“Once those standards are prepared, we recommend that DCF conduct trainings for all DCF staff who are involved with verifying causes of death to insure that factually similar causes of neglect will be verified as neglect regardless of where they occur,” the panel wrote.
The training of those who classify the cases is crucial to whether or not they're reported, said Maj. Connie Shingledecker of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
For instance, the two biggest causes of child deaths in Florida are drowning and what are called “co-sleeping” deaths, in which babies suffocate while sleeping with adults. Drowning and co-sleeping deaths are often accidental, but they can also be the result of impairment due to substance abuse by a parent — and Shingledecker said not all law-enforcement agencies are reporting them that way.
“They haven't been trained to recognize the death is a result of neglect, so they don't call it in,” she said.
Another example, Shingledecker said, is a murder-suicide in which a man kills his wife and children.
“Those oftentimes do not get called in to the hotline, because it's a murder — it's not a child-abuse case,” she said. “But you have no idea until you call it in and let them look at it what systems touch the lives of those families.”
South Dakota task force to study child sex abuse
by The Associated Press
PIERRE — A South Dakota task force will study the sexual abuse of children and recommend ways to address the issue.
Jolene's Law Task Force will meet starting Aug. 5 and will file a report to the Legislature in January. The task force plans to suggest ways the state could increase awareness and improve its policies for dealing with child sex abuse. The task force was created by state legislation earlier this year.
The August meeting will be open to the public.
The group is named after Jolene Loetscher of Sioux Falls, a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager who has talked publicly about her story. The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual abuse but is naming Loetscher because she has come forward and spoken publicly.
The Art of Coming Completely Undone
by Jean-Paul Bedard
I'm sure you've been in a room full of people when someone brings up the topic of cancer. You may have noticed the word "cancer" is whispered, said almost under the breath. It's a frightening word that no one likes to talk about. It's something we choose not to think about because we are all vulnerable to it touching our lives. It is with almost superstitious fear that we hesitantly broach the topic lest we invite it into our own life. But the reality is that we do talk about it. We raise money to find a cure, we honor those who have battled through it, and we seem to do everything within our means to banish it from our society.
That being said, there is another disease eating away at the fabric of our families, our communities, and our countries. It's something that no one is immune from. Next time you find yourself sitting on a bus, sitting in a crowded movie theatre, sitting amongst your neighbors, or even gathering with family, look carefully at the many faces, and realize that a staggering number of those individuals carry a secret that eats away at their lives like a cancer. Yet, it's a topic that few have the courage to give a voice to -- childhood sexual abuse.
I'm someone's son, someone's husband, someone's father, and possibly your neighbor. I'm also a member of a taboo society no one likes to talk about -- one that includes one in three girls and one in six boys. At the age of nine, sexual abuse entered my life for the first time, and for almost the next four decades, I sat amongst you feeling alone, ashamed, dirty, and less than. If I wasn't willing to talk about what happened to me, how could I expect that society at large would engage in a dialogue about what's happening to an alarming number our kids?
I won't begin to bore you with the train wreck that served as a metaphor for my adolescence and most of my adult life. I did everything possible to cut away that ugly "stowaway" buried deep inside me, but ironically it oozed out in my addictions, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Four months ago, with the help of my wife and therapy team, I did something I never imagined I could do -- I walked into the police station and made a video deposition against one of the men who sexually abused me when I was a trusting child. If truth be told, my voice in that deposition was a shaky truncated whisper, but I now realize that I added my faint whisper to a chorus of whispers finally coming to life in the air around me. When I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the police station and entered the claustrophobic video recording room, I knew that my life would never be the same again. I also knew that the road ahead would not be smooth, and that my resolve would be tested. Yesterday, after a long conversation with the investigating officer about the procedural hurdles before me, I felt gutted, afraid, and alone. I know that I have only two options -- face this head on, or bury it and permit this to steal the rest of my life. After a day of much soul-searching, I've come up with three guiding principles to help me push through this terminal discomfort.
1. I need to step back to move forward.
I've never subscribed to the belief that it's better to leave the past in the past, and simply move on. Yes, our past is indeed a minefield, but within that minefield lies an abundant orchard waiting to be harvested. I know there are parts of me I need to reconnect with and bring forward into a better place today. Inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant articulates this perfectly:
Until you heal the wounds of your past, you are going to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex. But eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds. Stick your hands inside, pull out the core of pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them.
2. If I wait for all the pieces to fall into place, I'll only end up falling to pieces.
Last year when I first disclosed to my wife that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, we quickly realized that this was a problem that we were ill-equipped to handle, so we started looking for professionals and resources to help us get through this together. It didn't take long to discover that childhood sexual abuse resources are primarily allocated to children, and to a much lesser extent, women. When it comes to treating men who are seeking help, there is very little available. This harsh reality has fuelled my desire to become a full-time advocate for adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. At this point, I'm struggling with what this "mission" should look like, but in so doing, I risk being overwhelmed and not taking any action at all. I'm reminded of a quote I heard recently: " It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than think yourself into a new way of acting ."
3. Whenever my spirits waiver, I need to remind myself of these essential truths:
If I exercise my body, I exorcise my mind . My running and my yoga practice help clear my mind, and that opens the space I need to process adversity.
Passion is contagious. By lending my voice to this issue and advocating for a serious public discourse, I act as a beacon for other men, women, and children to find their voice and their way through this pain.
It doesn't require a doctorate degree, it just requires "me" . I've been attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings now for more than 17 years, and I believe AA's success lies in its core belief that healing comes from the simplicity of one alcoholic talking to another. I want to be perfectly clear that I'm not discounting the role of treatment professionals and therapists, especially considering I've found much relief in them, but I don't care how long you've been in school, until you've experienced the terror and confusion of a child who has been sexually abused, you will never understand what it feels like to be a foreigner in your own body.
Like a lotus flower, beauty can appear from a murky place . Many of us harbour a part of us that we believe is ugly or broken in some way. In truth, that piece of us that we hide from the light, may in fact be the most beautiful part of us.
I'd like to leave you with a precious reminder from Cynthia Occelli:
For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
A survivor's story: Trapped in a subculture of child abuse
by Laurence Cawley
With numerous inquiries into alleged child abuse either up and running or poised to begin, is there a risk the individual voices of victims might get lost? One survivor believes so. This is his story.
"I was trafficked to Wrexham, Cornwall, Plymouth and London and forced to perform sex acts on men there."
The person making the claim - we will call him Michael - was at the time a young teenager in the care of Suffolk County Council.
Now in his late 30s, and still living in Suffolk, Michael's is a case which demonstrates the great difficulty survivors face in trying to get their voices heard.
He told the authorities about the abuse 20 years ago. He claims nothing was done. He raised them again with both Suffolk Police and the county council again last year.
Michael claims again, nothing has been done. Worse still, he maintains the authorities have actively worked to discredit him in order to ignore his claims.
His allegations against the police and the county council have been put in detail to both organisations by the BBC. Suffolk Police said it would not comment on individual cases and the council said an investigation was under way.
His account of abuse spans several years at different locations. On the surface these episodes of abuse might appear unrelated, but Michael believes they were connected in that an abuser who knew an abuser knew an abuser. And he was effectively passed along that chain.
"It wasn't quite a paedophile ring," says Michael. "More an affiliation of abusers who all knew each other."
The physical and sexual abuse, Michael says, began at the hands of his sister when he was aged between three and four and continued later when a boyfriend of his mother allegedly seriously sexually assaulted him.
He was taken into local authority care aged 13 to be housed at a now-closed adolescent unit in Suffolk where, after refusing to perform a sex act on a visitor, he was locked in a cupboard for 32 hours. On finally being released, he was sexually assaulted.
He was then moved to a children's home - again, now closed - where, he says, a number of adults, including uniformed police officers, abused children.
He told of one man who gave sweets or cigarettes to children who masturbated him.
Young people were taken from both the unit and children's home to north London to perform oral sex and were anally raped by men.
Children who refused, he says, were beaten.
In 1992 he was moved to the Stowmarket home of a single male foster carer where he was to remain for about six months.
The abuse started on the fourth night and escalated, says Michael, from being asked to perform sex acts (to then being told he was dirty and threatened about reporting the abuse) to rape.
It did not end there.
Michael was taken on "trips away" to Plymouth, Portsmouth, Wrexham, Cornwall and Islington, where he would be expected to perform sex acts for other abusers.
Occasionally, the children were given a little money - usually a £10 note.
"You'd find yourself thinking, at least I got a 'tenner' for it," says Michael.
An assessment of his foster carer's suitability for the role was carried out by the local authority and has been seen by the BBC.
It tells how the foster carer's "major source of fulfilment and satisfaction has been with young people" and that children "should have some responsibility and would want to give them this within the household regime". It also mentions how he had given up "often two evenings per week" to help out a school currently under at the centre of a separate major investigation into child sex abuse.
This foster carer was later - after caring for Michael - convicted of sexually abusing another boy.
On leaving Stowmarket, Michael describes living in "slave" conditions on a country estate in Suffolk where he came into contact with the now dead Peter Righton, a consultant to the National Children's Bureau who was eventually unmasked as a paedophile. Righton repeatedly sexually abused him, Michael claims.
Michael claims a senior police officer had visited the estate to raise concerns about Righton's presence there. Suffolk Police would not respond to this allegation or say whether there had been any investigation into alleged activities at the estate.
The abuse largely stopped after he left care - though Michael says he was occasionally taken to parties, where he would be paid to commit sex acts.
But he tells how men at these parties would demand "fresh flesh" and how some who had already abused him lost interest in him.
Looking back at the abuse he suffered, Michael says: "It was just horrendous.
"Society needs to be more proactive with these things."
He says the council "conspired" to have him "declared mentally ill, and have consistently ignored my complaints of historic sexual abuse."
This, he claims, has enabled "other agencies to ignore complaints I have made".
He has formal complaints lodged against both Suffolk Police and the county council.
Council documents seen by the BBC do indeed refer to Michael having a "dissociative personality disorder" and makes various other suggestions about his mental health - but this is contradicted by a consultant psychiatrist who assessed Michael late last year.
This psychiatrist, who works for the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust, said "no history of mental illness has been found" and that Michael "showed no features of mental illness".
The confidential council documents also mention Michael was arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in 1994 - he was found to have had nothing to do with either crime.
A spokesman for the authority said: "We are aware of this complaint which, like any, we take very seriously.
"In terms of the allegations of historical abuse, we have advised the complainant to contact the police and have appointed an independent advocate to support him.
"In addition, we are also investigating related practice issues. We are currently awaiting the outcome of that investigation."
The allegations were also put to Suffolk police which said: "Suffolk Constabulary takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously and the allegations are always fully investigated, however we are not able to comment on individual cases."
Michael, who is currently in contact with the Met Police, said he is not seeking any compensation in relation to his allegations or complaints against the authorities.
He does, however, want an apology and those involved held accountable.
Deborah Dennis, spokeswoman for the charity Stop it Now, which campaigns to prevent child sexual abuse, said: "Extreme cases such as this, which involve organised abuse, do happen but, thankfully, they are rare. Far more often abuse happens at home either by the family members of the abused or someone else very close to the victim.
"Often we think abuse only happens in big cities. It doesn't. In this case it is Suffolk. Any area can be affected by sexual abuse and exploitation."
Child abuse investigations
The Metropolitan Police's Operation Fernbridge , which is investigating allegations of a network of abusers in the late 1970s and 1980s at the former Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London - the scene of alleged parties involving MPs and other members of the establishment
Greater Manchester Police are conducting a new investigation into allegations of abuse by Cyril Smith in Rochdale, including at Knowl View, a children's home which closed in 1994
28 NHS hospitals have published reports on allegations involving the late BBC DJ and presenter Jimmy Savile . Four other hospitals are due to report in the autumn. A former judge is also looking into whether culture and practice at the BBC enabled Savile to carry out the sexual abuse of children
Operation Yewtree - set up following Savile's death in 2011 - has seen a string of high-profile entertainers being prosecuted for alleged sex crimes
And local authorities have been instructed to investigate claims that Savile abused children at 21 children's homes and schools in England in the 1960s, 70s and 80s
Operation Cayacos, which is among numerous other ongoing historical child abuse investigations around the UK, is investigating allegations of a paedophile ring linked to Peter Righton, a founding member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a group that campaigned to make sex between adults and children legal
Child sex abuse training proposed to Solano area leaders
by Richard Bammer
Both survivors of child sexual abuse, two Vacaville women will propose child sexual abuse prevention training for area residents on Aug. 28, it has been announced.
Their free presentation, which is expected to attract city and county leaders, educators, and law enforcement officials, among others, will be 1 to 3 p.m. at the Solano County Events Center, 610 Texas St., Fairfield.
"We're not selling this training — we're just advocating it," said Christina Baird, author of "How Far Will I Run" and a member of the Vacaville's Community Services Commission. "If you have your own training, that's fine."
She said the training is for any person or organization that interacts with children.
"We're just hoping for the awareness," she said, alluding to her co-presenter, Hazel Payne, a former Miss Vacaville.
In a written statement, Baird, who owns a public relations and marketing company, said, "Our goal is to educate these adults on how to implement effective prevention policies, recognize the signs of sexual abuse in children and respond responsibly if abuse occurs."
She said that, over the years, the frequency of child abuse, as reported, has declined, from one in four children in 1984 to one in 10 in more recent times.
There's No Such Thing as an Adverse Childhood
by Will Meecham, MD, MA
Adverse (ad'v?rs,'adv?rs/adjective): preventing success or development; harmful; unfavorable.
Definitions matter, because the words we apply to our lives influence whether we feel hopeful or discouraged.
Can a childhood be adverse? Events during childhood can certainly be harmful and unfavorable. And yes, painful formative experiences often limit success and development along conventional avenues. In my own case early loss, trauma, and neglect contributed to unsustainable career choices, nervous breakdowns, conflicted relationships, substance abuse issues, medical problems, and so on.
But let's look at this another way. What if we define success as overcoming obstacles? What if we define development as adapting to circumstances? Then any childhood that is survived provides an exemplar of success and development.
It's vital to think in terms of early adversity, because it explains so many of the problems faced by those who experienced it. But we should avoid clinging to the notion of having come from an adverse childhood , from one that prevents success.
It's tricky. On the one hand, knowing that childhood hardship correlates with later addiction, mental illness, health problems, domestic uproar, etc., can relieve us of shame about adult difficulties. On the other, it can drain us of hope. Doesn't scientific research (the ACE study, for instance) prove that we're doomed?
No. It proves we're at high risk. It proves we have work to do. But statistical risk is not the same as unalterable fate. It's vital to remember we can learn to cope with the vulnerabilities handed to us by our past. After all, in making it to adulthood we learned tactics that helped ensure survival. We might have grown hypersensitive–the better to detect threats. We might have begun to distrust others–the better to avoid predation. We might have become withdrawn–the better to protect ourselves from hazards.
The ability to shape response to circumstance remains with us. True, habits of behavior that saved the child often fail the adult, and habits can be difficult to break. But both neuroscientific research and effective psychological treatments (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– CBT and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy– ACT) demonstrate our lifelong capacity for growth and maturation.
When I was a young adult in the 1980's, the thinking was different. Back then, no one talked (or knew) about neuroplasticity –the ability of the nervous system to repair and reshape itself. As a neuroscience graduate student, I was under the impression that the brain was a biological computer with an architecture determined by genetics and upbringing, neither of which could be changed. I sought therapy to cope with what the past had done to me but did not expect to correct the damage.
From a psychological standpoint, we live in a much more hopeful era. We now know that our nervous systems continually update their pathways in response to behavior and experience. We can heal and we can grow. Yes, some deeply conditioned responses may prove difficult to fully overcome. But progress is not only possible: it's inevitable, provided we apply ourselves.
Stroke and accident victims must work hard to rehabilitate after brain insults, but they are much less likely now than formerly to require longterm institutional care. Neural restructuring follows proper therapy, leading to functional gains.
Similarly, survivors of childhood adversity must work hard to build skillful behavior patterns, but they are much less likely now than formerly to remain bound by unhealthy and constricted lifestyles. Behavioral restructuring follows proper therapy, leading to psychological gains. We can learn to dampen emotional reactivity, develop mindfulness, and act in ways that promote physical, emotional, and social well-being. Most importantly, we can gain the courage and discernment needed to protect ourselves when necessary, and to open ourselves when desirable.
Let us define success as growing and maturing, as recognizing that all humans are vulnerable, that all face challenges, and that all can learn. Let us define it, in other words, as becoming more insightful and compassionate versions of our adaptable, capable selves. With such a definition no childhood, no matter how punishing, can prevent us from succeeding. No childhood, in other words, is truly adverse.
After a traumatic upbringing, Will Meecham, MD, MA studied ecology, biophysics, neuroscience, medicine, ophthalmology, and reconstructive surgery. In 2000, neck disease prevented him from continuing to work as an oculoplastic surgeon. He spent many years in emotional, intellectual, and spiritual exploration, investigating how people cope with childhood trauma, adult disappointment, and emotional distress. He now devotes his time to writing and speaking about overcoming the effects of childhood adversity. More of Dr. Meecham's writings can be viewed at WillSpirit.com.
Google tips off cops after spotting child abuse images in email
by John Hawes
A 41-year-old resident of Houston, Texas has been arrested after Google tipped off police that they had spotted child abuse images in his emails.
John Henry Skillern, a registered sex offender with a sexual assault charge dating back to 1994, was picked up on Tuesday, July 29th and later charged with one count of possession of child pornography and one count of promotion of child pornography.
A search of his home and equipment uncovered further images of child abuse, emails and text messages discussing his pedophilic tendencies, and even cell-phone videos of children visiting the branch of Denny's in Pasadena, Tx., where Skillern worked as a cook.
He is now being held in custody on a $200,000 bond.
The investigation was apparently sparked by a tip-off sent by Google to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, after explicit images of a child were detected in an email he was sending.
The story seems like a simple one with a happy outcome - a bad man did a crime and got caught.
However, there will of course be some who see it as yet another sign of how the twin Big Brothers of state agencies and corporate behemoths have nothing better to do than delve into the private lives of all and sundry, looking for dirt.
Google has a long-running and often controversial relationship with the privacy of its users, in the past receiving criticism for its unclear and confusing privacy policies, data-slurping StreetView cars and leaky Google Drive services.
It's been ordered to give people the option to have references to them ignored by its search engine, and most recently the Italian government demanded more openness about what will be done with people's data once they've given it up to Google's multi-tentacled services.
Email services in particular are seen as a sensitive area where people might expect some privacy, but Google's business model relies on crunching everything we do in order to push the right advertising in our direction, and email is a great source of personal info on those who use it.
Google's been sued for probing intrusively into student Gmail accounts, but at the same time US law has found Gmail accounts to be fair game for police investigation, provided a warrant is granted, and the FBI can get their hands on much more data on Google's users should they want to.
A year ago Google's attitude to the privacy of email users everywhere was apparently questioned.
We all like to get things for free, and like other "free" online providers, Google takes advantage of that, giving us all sorts of services in return for all the personal info we care to hand over. Exactly what is then done with that data is something we have very little control over.
So whenever we hear of something being spotted in (what we think is) our private stuff and reported, we find it worrying, even if it's something entirely proper and innocuous.
On the other hand though, at least some people expect the Googles of the world to be stepping in more and more to prevent any kind of nastiness, impropriety or fraud on the internet.
This is particularly the case in the area of child abuse, exemplified by UK Prime Minister David Cameron's crusade to persuade Google to implement more filters to remove child sex images from searches.
At the time this proposal was widely ridiculed, mainly on the grounds that pedophiles operate in sophisticated and well-hidden gangs who would never consider using Google.
In this case, where a man seems to have been caught simply because he was using Gmail, that claim seems proven to be not entirely accurate. Not everyone involved in this sort of nastiness is a criminal genius, fortunately.
When it comes down to it, we just need to be more aware of how the world works, and to act accordingly.
If you want your information kept private, just don't hand it over to a free service which makes money leveraging that kind of info.
If you want to use free services, just don't use them for anything you wouldn't want the entire world knowing about.
If you feel you want to commit crimes against children, just don't - get some psychological help instead.