Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No, White People and Media The "Mom in Yellow" Isn't a Hero

In the ongoing unrest and rioting in Baltimore and the media coverage of it, several narratives have emerged. The one that is getting all kinds of play is the "Mom in Yellow", Toya Graham.  People from the Police Commissioner Anthony Batts to Lester Holt have praised Ms. Graham for grabbing and beating her son on camera to get him to disengage from potential rioting. This thinking is naive at best and dangerously reckless at worst.

There has long been a myth in America that says, essentially, 'Black parents need to beat their kids so the cops won't have to.'  This myth is not just perpetuated by African American people but is reinforced by White people who think if African American people are "respectable" they won't get harassed by law enforcement. 

This myth has led to an uncountable number of child abuse reports that I have investigated in the last 21 years. Nationally African American children make up 14% of the population yet 31% of the foster care children are African American.  In Illinois the numbers are shocking. Black children make up 18% of the population and 68% of the foster care population.

The fundamental problem with the "Mom in Yellow" narrative is the underlying racism that blames Black mothers for their sons being hassled by police. "If only they had raised their boys right" I hear it from a few African American people, but I really hear it all the time from White people. Unfortunately I hear it from far too many colleagues. Sadly, this myth has not prevented incarceration or death for African American people. It's only reinforced generation after generation of whites thinking that if 'they' just 'behave' they won't be unfairly targeted.

Now, specifically referencing the Ms. Graham, I fundamentally get that she was trying to save her son. I have no problem with that. My quarrel is that by physically hitting and punching him, she was not only lauded as a hero, her behavior reinforced so many stereotypes of Black mothers, it made me a little sick. 

Ms. Graham's physical assault reinforced the myth I've described above, but it also reinforced the myth and extremely racist trope of the "angry black woman".  It reinforced the racist trope that the only way to control a young black man is to be more violent. Commissioner Batts actually said he 'wished more parents would take control' of their children like the Mom in Yellow did.

All of this thinking is exactly why Baltimore happened. Beating African American children hasn't solved the problems of cops targeting African Americans. Black people being respectable hasn't stopped their oppression by Whites. Freddy Gray was probably disciplined by his parents and told to watch out for the police and he's still dead.

It's incredibly easy to offer simplistic solutions like "I wish more parents were like the Mom in Yellow".  The complex issues that affect the African American community aren't so easily answered. Those issues will continue to plague Baltimore and America forever. No amount of "beating them before the cops do" is going to change the color of black people's skin. 



Monday, April 13, 2015

Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau is a Female Predator

On April 10th, ABC's 20/20 featured a new Barbara Walters interview.  The subjects were Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau and her husband and victim Vili Fualaau.  The hook for the interview was that that Fualaau's are soon celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. To call this entire thing creepy is an injustice to creepiness. 

During the interview, the audience was treated to some inner details of Letourneau's abuse of Fualaau How she was smitten with a 12 year old boy when she was 34, and how one kiss turned into "an affair" Letourneau detailed a night when a shared a kiss after spending the summer helping him develop a gift for drawing.

"The incident was a late night that it didn't stop with a kiss," Mary said. "And I thought that it would and it didn't."

The problem with this entire interview is that this wasn't an affair.  It was child sexual abuse. Period. Mary Kay Letourneau was the first female predator of the modern media era. Her abuse of Fualaau was just as heinous as Jerry Sandusky, and she employed many of the same techniques. 

Developing a bond with the child over some months before making a sexual move. Using her authority as a teacher to enhance that bond and no doubt fawning over his drawing skills are textbook predator moves. I've written extensively about how the really good predators take their time. She was a really good predator. 

People don't like to think of women as sexual predators, and I have only done a few cases in 21 years involving female perpetrators of child sexual abuse.  Female predators do exist, but they tend to be under reported. Even a Google search of "Female sex offenders" turns up little in hard data. There is however, a copious amount of anecdotal information

What many female predators have in common is that they usually seek out their victims in situations like schools and day cares. Like male predators they choose their victims from vulnerable populations, kids with dysfunction at home. Kids who are needy. Vili Fualaau "grew up impoverished without a father and a tumultuous relationship with his mother. In other words, a perfect victim. 

Tracking down and locking up female predators is often times difficult, especially if the victim is a teen, these women aren't seen as predators or abusers. The boys who are abused by attractive young teachers are hailed as conquerors and not given the societal permission to understand that they were abused. 

The media reports abuse of boys by female teachers as "threesomes".  Other outlets report that the teacher "solicited" the student. In the case of Letourneau- Fualaau ABC chose to call it an affair. All of these cases are child sexual abuse. Attaching the words "child sexual abuser" to these cases gives them the stigma they deserve. 

In the 20/20 interview, Mary Kay Letourneau-Fualaau said she wanted to be taken off the sex offender registry. She said she wants to return to teaching. This should never happen. She may think she has atoned for her abuse but listening to her husband tells me that his pain lingers.

During the interview Vili Fualaau describes a dark journey since he was 13. Stating "I'm surprised I'm alive today" describing bouts of depression and substance abuse. Both common reactions of sexual abuse victims. 

In what may be the most surreal part of the interview, the Fualaau's were asked what their reaction would be if their daughters came home and told them they were 'sleeping with' AKA being abused by their teacher. Their response? They both said they'd be shocked and upset. Vili stated “I don't support younger kids being married or having a relationship with someone older,” Vili said. “I don't support it.” 


Vili sounds like a guy who totally wasn't abused doesn't he? 

Female predators are real. Sexual abuse of boys like Vili Fualaau is far more common than reported. Mary Kay Fualaau is the most famous case, but there are dozens and dozens every month. The victims are preyed upon just as surely as if  the perp were a man. Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau doesn't deserve to be removed from the registry. She made her bed (literally) and now she has to continue to lie in it. 





Thursday, April 9, 2015

Who Judges the Judges?

Trigger Warning Child Sexual Abuse 

This week in a ruling that shocked people across the country, A California judge reduced the sentence of a man who was found guilty of raping a 3 year old. Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly said that the rapist, Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto didn't intend to harm the girl. . In 21 years of investigating child abuse, I can tell you that thinking is not isolated, it's shockingly common.

The sexual abuse of children is something that most people don't like to think about.  Americans for the most part don't understand or want to understand how prevalent it really is. When a shocking story like the Sandusky Penn State case hits the media, people are aghast. Most people assume that convicted child rapists like Sandusky go to prison forever. Sadly that is not the case. Nationally the average sentence of child sex abusers is seven years.

In the Rojona-Nieto case, Rojona-Nieto cornered his 3 year old cousin in a garage and raped her. When her mother came looking for her, Rojona-Nieto covered the child's mouth to stifle her screams. It was only after the child complained of pain that her mother started asking questions that led  to the arrest and conviction.

Judges like Kelly are hardly rare. In the counties where I work, we've had similar issues with minimal sentences for child sex abusers, depending on the whim of the judge. Some judges do understand the seriousness of the conviction, other's adhere to the "the child must have done something" or in the case of teen victims the child was "as much in control of the situation" as the rapist.

A number of years ago I worked a case in which the perpetrator was convicted of sexual penetration of 4 children under the age of 4. In Illinois that is a class X felony punishable by a sentence of 6-30 years on each count. He was sentenced to a total of 40 years of a possible 120. Part of the rationale was that his offense was oral penetration, not vaginal or anal.

In another case, the judge convicted the man on fondling charges to 4 years in prison but found the man not guilty of sexual penetration because the girl said the man put his penis in her 'butt' but did not say that it hurt. This despite the legal definition being 'any contact however slight' so literally touching a child's anus or vagina with the penis is sexual penetration in Illinois.

In yet another case a judge found a man not guilty of raping a teen aged boy because the boy was chubby and the man's penis "couldn't possibly penetrated the boy in the way the boy described". These are just three cases that I'm personally aware of. There are dozens and dozens more and that's just in 3 relatively small counties.

Part of the problem is lack of understanding by judges.  As mentioned above people don't like to think about this subject.  There has been improvement in sentencing and in the understanding of victim's credibility in recent years due to a concerted effort to educate the judiciary, but there is still a long way to go.

Judges need to be educated not only about the suffering of victims, they need to understand that the intent of the perpetrator doesn't matter. Remorse doesn't matter. The involvement of alcohol and substances doesn't matter. All that matters is that they sexually assaulted a child.

Judges also need better understanding of recidivism of child sexual abusers. Studies vary but anywhere from 15-40 percent reoffend and are caught.   That number is conservative because child sex abusers who are released from prison are much savvier in their approach and often don't get caught.

Judges like Judge M. Marc Kelly are commonplace.  Judge Kelly stated that the perpetrator did not intend to harm the child and was remorseful.  I'd ask what part of forcible rape isn't harmful? As to remorse, every child rapist I've helped put in prison is remorseful. Remorseful that they got caught.




Monday, February 16, 2015

NBC's 'The Slap' Trivializes Child Abuse

Last week, NBC aired the premiere of it's mini-series "The Slap."  It's based on an Australian miniseries of the same name. According to promotions across the network, especially on the Today show, the incident that gives the show it's title is supposed to 'spark a conversation'.  I'm sure it has in some circles, but frankly, it's sparking the wrong conversation.

First, a brief synopsis (spoilers).  The Slap revolves around a relatively well to do family in quickly gentrifying Brooklyn. The family has gathered for a 40th birthday party and  there are a number of adults and children in attendance. As the day wears along, the children get exceedingly restless.

One of the children is acting out and his parents are seemingly oblivious. An adult cousin with a temper takes exception and when he confronts the child, the child kicks him. He responds almost automatically with a slap to the face.

That's it, the slap to the face of a child is the precipitating event that "tears a family apart" and forces them all "to choose sides".  Puh-leese.  If you've got so few problems in your family that this is the worst thing that happens? You're doing okay.

As a 21 year veteran investigator of abuse and neglect, let me make it clear, slapping or spanking a child is discouraged in my state and every other, but the reality is, it does happen. In Illinois, for instance we weigh factors such as age of the child, use of an instrument, location on the body, what happened immediately before the incident. There are better punishments than slapping or hitting, but not every hit or slap is child abuse by definition.

I frequently tell the story of one of my earliest cases. The report was a teen aged child slapped by step mother with a mark on the child's face.  I was so gung ho before going out.  I was sure it was an indicated report.  When I got there, I found the teen had called step mom a bitch and then called step grand mom a 'mother fucking cunt'.  Step mom slapped the teen out of reaction. Not the best choice, but not child abuse given the factors we use.

What really bothers me about the premise of The Slap is that there is so much physical and sexual abuse that is far worse than a slap.  Abuse like breaking a child's arm, sexually abusing them, beating them with switches, or killing them are all things I've investigated. Those are the kinds of child abuse that tear families apart.

In the last statistical year, 2013 there were over three million cases of child abuse reported  to hotlines across the nation.  That report also shows that there were over three million children identified as alleged victims of which almost seven hundred thousand were identified as indicated or founded victims of abuse or neglect.

Twenty three percent of all victims in 2013 were under 1 year of age. Sixty thousand kids were sexually abused, One hundred twenty two thousand were physically abused. Almost six hundred thousand were neglected.  In the latest reporting year on child death, 2012, sixteen hundred children were killed by abuse or neglect. The majority of those were under the age of 4.

I have seen families torn apart by abuse and neglect.  The death or sexual assault of a child tear families apart.  The unique phenomenon of a mother standing by an alleged perpetrator in the face of overwhelming evidence of abuse, is something I've seen time and again.  The extended family's response to the mother's intractability tears the fabric of family.

What 'The Slap' fails to see is that there are also countless families that take a situation like a slap to come together and grow,  Children are especially resilient.  One little girl I worked with who was sexually assaulted in the early 2000's, has grown up, graduated high school and college, and is on the way to her masters.  She's just one example of hundreds I know and hundreds of thousands nation wide.

Child abuse is terrible. It is real and it is epidemic. A national conversation on child abuse is a good thing. The problem is that NBC's The Slap trivializes a serious subject and fails to see that while a slap to the face of a child is a bad thing, the slap to the conscientiousness of America they hoped to deliver, went wide of the mark.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Is Lena Dunham a Sexual Abuser?

Trigger Warning Extreme Sexual content

Last month, Lena Dunham published a memoir “Not That Kind of Girl”.  In it she discusses numerous sexual trysts and her own neuroses about them.  Last week Kevin Williamson at NRO wrote a very pointed article accusing Dunham of sexually abusing her sister Grace who is 6 years her junior.  Williamson’s work was decried as conservative hit piece on a liberal feminist icon. 

While Williamson’s work would certainly qualify as a hit piece, it’s important to understand that he used Dunham’s own words to frame his work.  The issues that he brought up are not political.  Sexual conduct with a child isn’t a right/left issue.  It’s an issue that everyone should be disturbed by and Dunham’s accounts of what happened should give everyone pause no matter who they voted for.
 
When I saw the pull quotes from the book, I realized I needed to read it for myself to determine what may have been appropriate childhood curiosity and what was possible sexual abuse.  I obtained a copy courtesy of Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia on Twitter) and read the memoir.  

Aside from the astounding narcissism, there were several incidents between Dunham and her sister that were troubling at best and abusive at worst. 

In the passage that Williamson references in his piece,  Dunham describes and incident when she was 7 and her sister Grace was 1.  

“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.

“pYes,” she told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.” I looked at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Web, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.

“Does her vagina look like mine?"

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success.

There is a whole lot wrong with that passage.  

First, Dunham does herself no favors by writing about it in such a lurid way.  Grace offered no resistance because she was one! The fact that Dunham classifies Grace's behavior as a prank is incomprehensible.  One year old's can't comprehend pranks beyond playing peek a boo.  

Second, I have dealt with my own daughters when they were one, and countless other girls through investigations over the years.  I have never heard of a child inserting 6 or 7 pebbles into their own vagina.  I’m not saying it didn't happen, but the likelihood is very small.  

One year olds may stick stuff up their nose or in their ear.  They might even stick one pebble in their vagina, but multiple pebbles seem beyond the norm. One year olds simply don't have the manual dexterity to do it. It has been postulated that Dunham may have done it then called for her mother’s help, which is possible, but its only speculation at this point. 

I have done numerous investigations in which a 7 or 8 year old has fondled or penetrated another child.  Most of those cases have resulting in finding out that the perpetrating child was abused sexually and are displaying sexually reactive behaviors. 


Dunham examining her sister’s vagina and moving her labia is on the line between normal childhood curiosity and molestation.  The law regarding molestation is pretty specific that the touching has to be done for sexual arousal or gratification, which doesn’t appear to have happened.  If this were a case in my jurisdiction it most likely be investigated as a "Risk of Harm" rather than a sexual assault. 

Later, in the chapter detailing her relationship with her sister, Dunham writes:

As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying. 

What a cruel and callous thing to write. This shocking passage not only acknowledges a predatory bent in Dunham's affection for her sister, it essentially makes fun of people sexually abusing children. What a lark! I'm just like a sexual predator wooing a small suburban girl. 

This passage is particularly offensive given the cases I've seen in which candy, money and fear have been used to groom a child.  Dunham clearly has little or no understanding of how things work in the world, and clearly has no empathy for victims. 

The passage of the book that is hardest to reconcile comes in section 1 chapter two, "Platonic Bed Sharing":

I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out. Grace had the comforting, sleep-inducing properties of a hot-water bottle or a cat.

Again with the lurid language "sticky, muscly" body.  Dunham's admission that while her sister, 6 years her junior was laying next to her as she "slipped her hand into her underwear to figure some stuff out" means that she was masturbating possibly as old as age 17 while her sister (11 at the time) was in bed with her.  

In Illinois, "self masturbation in presence of a child" is investigated as Sexual Exploitation. I researched New York law regarding child sexual abuse and it's a little less concrete.  I was unable to find a "Sexual Exploitation" allegation, but numerous references of sexual conduct with a child. 

If I were investigating Ms. Dunham, my questions would be: Did you masturbate next to your sister? Yes. You're indicated for sexual exploitation. (Please note, 'Indicated', means "a reasonable person would conclude abuse or neglect occurred, it is not a criminal  indictment)

Having said all of this, given what Dunham has written, I think she would have been indicated for sexual abuse for the masturbation incident.  I don't think, however, that she is a child sexual abuser in the classic sense, meaning that I don't think she'd go out and abuse a child today.

I think that she was horribly sexually inappropriate with her sister. I think that she walked right up to the line.  She has no boundaries whatsoever as evidenced by her writing.

Dunham purports to be a feminist, an edgy provocateur and a voice of her generation.  Sadly that voice makes light of horrible situations.  That voice betrays a lack of understanding of the horrors of the real world.   

Dunham's  casual and flippant tone in discussing these experiences clearly show a lack of empathy for victims of sexual abuse.  This isn't a game. This isn't 3 pieces of candy for a kiss.  Children's lives are ruined every day, yet Dunham casually jokes about being a predator.  

In the end, Dunham's behavior with her sister is disturbing.  Even more disturbing is the fact that Dunham doesn't have a clue why people are rightly calling her out.  Dunham is about Dunham. Narcissists are like that. 



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

John Grisham is Wrong About Child Pornography

If you investigate child abuse for more than 20 years, you learn a few things. One thing you learn is just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all, you haven’t.
In what can only be termed a completely insane argument, John Grisham, author of such works as The Firm, and A Time To Kill, told the Telegraph that the U.S. is imprisoning too many people for viewing child pornography. Grisham draws from personal experience. He describes an old college friend whose drinking was “out of control” and he was on the internet and found himself looking at “16 year old girls who looked 30″ and downloaded it. He was later caught up in a child pornography sting and ended up serving three years in prison.
Grisham went on to say, “He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything.” This lack of understanding of the horrors of child pornography is appalling. The child was touched by somebody, watching it over and over again is just as vile as doing it. He’s also apparently something of a homophobe as looking at 16 year old girls isn’t as bad as 10 year old boys.
Let’s set the record straight. Child pornography is in many ways the most pernicious form of child sexual abuse.  The children are abused on film, video tape, digital recordings and photos. Those different mediums make their way to the internet for the viewing pleasure of the slavering masses.
Since the internet is forever, the child victims, if they ever get away from their abuser, have to live with the fact that their abuse lives on. I’ve been to several conferences on child pornography and the internet run by the FBI and the postal inspectors. People who were abused and filmed or photographed as children in the 1950s and 1960s still find their pictures and videos on the internet.
Another fallacy that Grisham perpetuates is the “accidental” location and download of child pornography. This is laughably false. If you Google “child porn,” “Lolita,” “16 year old sex” or any other term, you get about 5 million hits of agencies working to prevent child porn — sites that have adult actors pretending to be minors and the actual book and movie Lolita.
The point is you can only find actual child porn if you go looking for it. In every child porn case I’ve investigated, the perpetrator has used some form of “it was an accident” I didn’t know it was in my history, on my hard drive etc. Every single one of them has been a liar.
Recently local police, the feds and the Illinois Attorney General’s office is prosecuting a child pornography case in which a five year-old child was being live streamed performing sex acts with adults and objects. Hundreds of hours of video were also confiscated.  A number of men were busted for watching via the live stream and viewing other videos.
That’s just one case. I defy Grisham to say that the people “who only look” and “don’t touch or hurt,” don’t deserve justice. I defy him to tell that five year-old that the people who were watching the abuse, as it happened, only did so by accident.
The attitude that Grisham revealed in his interview is all to familiar.  Many people think as he does that “looking” is not victimization.  That it’s only the filmmakers and people literally touching the child that are the real bad guys.
Child pornography victimizes children over and over again. In the age of the internet it makes the victimization eternal.  Grisham’s lament that his buddy was wronged is short sighted and ignorant of the facts. He’s made a career on writing with legal accuracy, too bad he didn’t research the facts about child pornography before he spoke to the Telegraph.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yes, the Kid Who Had a Threesome with 2 Teachers is a Victim.

Today news broke that two teachers in Louisiana were arrested for allegedly having a threesome with a 16 year old boy. While the local authorities seem to be taking the high road regarding the boy and the crimes committed, there have been some people who don't seem to think the child in question was a victim at all. Its a common reaction that I've seen many times before. Being common doesn't make it correct.

Writing for the Daily Banter, Chez Pazienza was one of those who doesn't think that the 16 year old should be called a victim. It's an understandable, although outmoded way of thinking, that continues to frame cases like this one. The boy said it was consensual, he was bragging to friends, "he's a god".  All familiar refrains, that really don't hold up under scrutiny.


Sex crimes, and especially crimes committed against children are not about hot sexy time with a teacher or older woman.  Sex crimes and crimes against children are about power and control. In the Louisiana teacher case, the young man may have thought he was in control and he was consenting, but this is how predators work.


It may seem harsh to label Shelley Dufresne and Rachel Respess predators, but teachers who seek out sex with students, even teen aged students are exactly that.  Using a position of trust and authority IS predatory and it is wrong.  


In 2013, Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh came under fire, and rightfully so, for saying a 14 year old girl was older than her chronological age and "as much in control" of the situation as the teacher who was convicted of raping her.  That girl later committed suicide. 


Judge Baugh's comments were seen as cruel and insensitive to the victim, and they were.  The same can be said of comments regarding the young man in the Louisiana case.  He may be convinced that he's the greatest stud that walks the earth, but the fact is he was manipulated into having sex with those teachers just as surely as the girl in Montana. 


I've written numerous times in the past about the percentages of boys who are victims of sexual assault. One in ten boys report sexual assault.  The numbers are lower than that of girls (1 in 4) because of the stigma of reporting.  The sad truth is that the stigma isn't always shame of being abused, the stigma is not realizing that you were a victim in the first place.


One case that always comes back to haunt me, involved a teacher and child.  The teacher was well respected, the child was 16 and turned 17 during the course of the case.  The teacher seduced the child and had sexual contact with the child in his hot tub. The child was struggling with his sexuality and the teacher took full advantage of that. The child was convinced that it was consensual.


Despite a confession, the teacher was not prosecuted.  The child in question later committed suicide as a young adult.


I'm not saying that the boy in Louisiana is going to commit suicide. I understand that a 16 or 17 year old boy has crazy sexual desires, hell all men do no matter what their age.  The back slapping and locker room high fiving that a lot of people are doing, however, is ill informed and childish.


It may seem awesome to a guy in his 40's who once fantasized about his teachers, in some respects I understand why so many people think this kid is awesome, hell I had crushes on teachers.  Hot for Teacher was a ANTHEM for kids my age.


Just because many men have had teacher fantasies as children doesn't make what happened in Louisiana right.  Just because the boy in Louisiana thinks the sex was consensual doesn't make him "a god", it makes him naive and horny.  Ultimately, like thousands of children a year, it makes him a victim.


.