Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gun Culture and the Lost Childhood of Two Girls

This week, two young girls lives were irrevocably changed because of guns.
The one that everyone has been discussing involves the accidental killing of a firearms instructor by a 9 year-old girl in Arizona. The other, has garnered less national attention, but is just as important, and in some ways more so: the arrest of Will Hayden, star of Discovery’s Sons of Guns for the alleged ongoing rape of a minor girl.
The shooting instructor’s death has been well documented. Her parents took her to a shooting range called Bullets and Burgers and allowed her to try to shoot an Uzi submachine gun. The child fired one round then the instructor Charles Vacca switched the gun to full automatic. The child lost control of the gun and accidentally killed Vacca. Because adults weren’t careful, this little girl has to live with the fact that she killed a man. Her life will never be easy. Childhood trauma, especially an event of this magnitude will require years of therapy. Even then, she may not fully be able to forgive herself.
The Will Hayden story broke earlier this week. He was arrested in Louisiana on Tuesday for the alleged repeated rape of a child that started when the child was 11 in 2013. The rapes happened almost daily until July of this year. He allegedly threatened her repeatedly by telling he was all she had and she wouldn’t have anything if he was arrested. That’s a powerful threat to a child. In my opinion, that threat was exacerbated by the fact that Hayden had a reality show on Discovery (Hayden was part owner of Red Jacket Firearms, and his company was featured on the show Sons of Guns, which has promptly been cancelled).
Child sexual abusers use multiple tactics to abuse the child and get them not to tell. They coerce and groom children like Jerry Sandusky did. They convince the child that the behavior is fun and normal, a tactic I’ve seen many times. They also make threats, like Hayden did. What is especially troubling about the Hayden case, though, is that as his popularity and wealth increased, his ability to threaten the child’s lifestyle also increased. The fact that his wealth and popularity were a direct result of his gun shop, the incessant fetishism of guns in America, and the equally unrelenting need for cable outlets to find the next big ratings getter were factors in his threat.
Imagine for a moment that you’re the child in the Hayden case. Hayden is wildly popular already, then he gets a TV show. No doubt that his sense of entitlement grew exponentially. He has the money to buy the best attorneys. He tells you nobody will believe you. You better not tell because I’m all you got. If you tell all this will be gone. It’s pretty easy to see why the child didn’t disclose for over a year.
I’ve dealt with child victims who were threatened with physical and emotional violence. Some of those victims were the children of wealthy parents. Some of those children felt threatened because the abusers had guns. The Hayden case involves a guy who got wealthy because of guns. The psychological strain on Hayden’s victim is unimaginable.
It’s entirely possible and actually probable that Hayden would have raped his victim whether he had guns and money or not — I’d hate to think that Discovery’s elevation of Hayden to the national spotlight gave him the final impetus to carry out his attacks — but child sexual abuse is about power and control. As Hayden’s power grew from wealth his control of the victim became even greater.
Time and treatment may help both girls get on with their lives. The unfortunate part of these stories is that for every one of these that make the news, there are thousands who don’t. Children accidentally kill with guns on a daily basis. Children are sexually violated on a daily basis. How many more children have to be permanently damaged before we take a serious look at these issues?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Sexual Abuse-Again.

Trigger warning:

In what seems to be a recurring theme, Richard Dawkins once again showed a shockingly callous and spectacularly uninformed view of child sexual abuse and adult rape. I've written about his misinformed opinion in the past.  Tuesday's performance seems to have outdone the idiocy in his Time Magazine interview of last fall.

Taking to Twitter he attempted to rank different types of abuse and rape.  It really has to be seen to be believed. The folks at the 'white guys doing it by themselves' Tumblr screen capped Dawkins' inanity for posterity.

While I find his insouciant dismissal of rape to be reprehensible, I specialize in investigating child sexual abuse, and will focus on that part of his sexual comparisons.

In my previous post I dressed Dawkins down for his misuse of the term pedophilia and I'll do so again. The term pedophile is a DSM V diagnosis.  Unless a person has been diagnosed as a pedophile by a psychologist or psychiatrist, they are to be called child molesters or child sexual abusers.  Dawkins prides himself on intellectual and scientific accuracy, but failed to research this.

His statement, "Mild pedophilia is bad, violent pedophilia is worse", illustrates his utter lack of knowledge about child sexual abuse.  It is well documented by anecdote and statistics that very little child sexual abuse is violent.

Child sexual abusers don't want their victims to be frightened.  In fact most child sexual abusers approach their victims with a friendly open manner. They want to build trust and develop a comfort level with the child. Think in terms of the Sandusky sexual abuse case.  Most of those young men had known Sandusky for some time and trusted him.

If you recall the testimony of the victims, Sandusky showed them special attention, bought them gifts and groomed them slowly over time.  Many of the victims were introduced to casual nakedness and horseplay showering with Sandusky before any overt sexual acts occurred.  This pattern was not unique to Sandusky. It is repeated over and over again.

Dawkins' portrayal of "violent pedophilia" highlights another common myth about child sexual abuse.  No doubt in the intellectually superior mind of Dawkins, violent pedophiles lurk on every playground waiting to rape the unsuspecting child.  The fact is that according to recent research, 90 percent of child abusers are known by the victim.

Dawkins' categorization of the types of child sexual abuse also shows a shocking lack of understanding the human condition.  Even in the instances I've cited in which the acts themselves were not "violent" as we may define it, sexual violence and degrees thereof are experienced differently by different people.

Dawkins' long ago "mild touching up" by a school teacher in boarding school, may have not had a lasting effect on him.  That same level of abuse may be and often is incredibly traumatic to other victims. Deigning to cast all victims and victimization into bad, worse and worst does an incredible disservice to victims.

Dawkins has a reputation as a brilliant biologist and intellectual. His intellect serves him well in many instances.  Tuesday, his pomposity and apparent need for grandiose pronouncements betrayed his lack of understanding of a serious subject and his lack of basic research into said subject.

Tuesday Dawkins' logic reminded us an ass is bad, a pompous ill informed ass is worse, if you think that's an endorsement of an ass Mr. Dawkins, go away and learn how to think.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Investigating Child Death and the Cooper Harris Case.

Investigating child death is one of the toughest things to do for anyone in child protection or law enforcement. I've worked closely with police investigating these cases for the last twenty years.  While it takes an emotional toll, I find it interesting and strangely exhilarating.

Death cases are the ultimate puzzle for investigators and after you've done them, you learn to look for certain things.  That being said, it gives me no pleasure to say that it appears that I was right about the death of Cooper Harris, the 22 month old left in his father's car in Suburban Atlanta.  Details are now coming out that this indeed appears to be a murder case, not a tragic accident.

When investigating child death, there are certain procedures and protocols that are followed. Each state, county and city has it's own unique system. Using the Cooper Harris case as a template, we'll walk through how these cases are investigated in my area.

The first thing that happens after a child death is an initial determination of probable cause of death.  In other words was the child beaten to death, suffocated, died in sleep, etc.  In almost every infant death in Illinois, the Child Abuse Hotline and local Police are called to inform them. If it's suspicious, investigators from DCFS and Police are called into action.

At the outset of the case, the investigative team would interview the parents of the deceased child.  Getting an initial statement sets the bedrock from which the case is built.

In the Cooper Harris case, the story that Justin Ross Harris told was that  he forgot his son Cooper in his car seat in the Hyundai Tuscon he drove. He was supposed to drop Cooper at daycare but he accidentally left the child in the car for 7 hours and Cooper died of hyperthermia. Harris only noticed the child after leaving work and driving a couple of miles, pulling in to a shopping mall and trying to revive his son.

After getting Harris' statement, one of the first calls that an investigator would make would be to the daycare. The first question I would ask: "What is your procedure when children are supposed to be there but don't show up?"  Many daycare's are hyper vigilant about children being dropped off. Did the daycare call the Harris home or Harris at work wondering about the whereabouts of the child?

After parsing the Harris' story, a seasoned investigator would question Harris getting in his car after work and not noticing the dead child for a couple of miles. The smell of death is not one that is easily confused with dirty gym clothes or a diaper that wasn't tossed out.

I'm reasonably sure the detectives in Georgia had these same questions.  When it has been established by the investigators that the father's story makes no sense, the team develops a list of questions and inconsistencies. With those questions the team in Georgia went to work.

Through some good shoe leather work, the detectives discovered that Harris ate breakfast with his son at a Chick Fil A around 20 minutes before "forgetting" that he was in the car.  Next they discovered that Harris had returned to the vehicle at noon time and threw something in the front seat.

With those facts in hand, the questioning, which would likely be moved to the Police Department at this point, would directly confront the inconsistencies.  In my experience, the discrepancies are soft peddled early in the interrogation. We ask for answers to the discrepancies. If the suspect gives weak answers or crazy explanations for the discrepancies the team digs in and goes harder at the suspect to get to the truth.

It's also being leaked that Harris Google searched information about how long it takes for an animal to die in a hot car.  This is information that investigators would typically hold back for an AHA moment. If the the suspect is making excuses about the other inconsistencies, this would be held back to use to try to get a confession.

If the suspect doesn't confess, the case falls back on the forensics. In the Harris case, the autopsy was performed the day after the child was found.  Autopsies are fascinating to attend. One has to have a strong stomach and the realization that you're watching a science project. According to reports, Cooper Harris died of hyperthermia.

At an autopsy, after the gross dissection, the pathologist takes a micro dissection of brain, liver, kidney, lung and spleen, to be sent off for tests. There is also a draw of ocular fluid, blood from the heart and a search of the stomach contents. In  the Harris case, I'm sure these things were done and the investigative team is awaiting results.

At some point during the investigation of the Cooper Harris death, the investigative team realized this was most likely not an accident.  I'm sure the team members are doing a thorough review of all the evidence. They're typing their reports and piecing together the puzzle.

If the team in Georgia is as good as the people I work with, they're masters at solving the puzzle. When all is said and done, the goal of any child death investigation is finding the truth. Too many times, the truth is that a parent did the unthinkable and killed their child.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and The Death Of American Compassion

The release of POW Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has set off a firestorm of controversy across the United States.  News media members are breathlessly reporting on how the White House is in "damage control". Pundits are speculating about possible impeachment of the President and everyone seems to have an opinion on whether Sergeant Bergdahl deserted, wandered away or was actively seeking to join forces with the Taliban.

I'm not going to speculate on any of that.  Instead I'd like to focus on what I see is a disturbing trend in our discourse and indeed in the country at large. Sergeant Bergdahl's return has exposed a shocking lack of compassion by Americans.

There's a term in social work called "Compassion Fatigue" .  The official diagnosis is called Secondary Traumatic Stress.  It's usually transitory and it basically means you're so tired of helping people, you become callous.

I've experienced it. It's not a pleasant feeling.  On more than one occasion, I've felt like a client didn't deserve to be helped. Several times I've invoked the "teenager had it coming" rule for smart mouthed teens getting beat by their parents. It happens, you work through it, you learn from your mistakes.

I've worked very hard on becoming more compassionate. That's what makes the treatment of Bergdahl's return so utterly outrageous to me.

People have called death threats to Bergdahl's parents and harassed his hometown into cancelling a welcome home celebration. Calls have been so abusive to the Hailey, Idaho Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber president June Drussel said "People aren't being very American"

I beg to differ with Ms. Drussel. The people calling her office are being very American, in this new, cold, me first, screw you, America.

Over recent years because of the rise of social media, people care less and less about hurting the feelings of others. In fact they revel in it. There is no place anymore for gray areas or benefit of the doubt or just some human decency.

In recent weeks, a man was so cold and lacking in compassion that he stole the signs from Sandy Hook Memorial playgrounds and taunted the parents of the dead children.  A few months ago a judge said a 14 year old girl, who later committed suicide, was partially responsible for her rape.  This week a woman went off in a crazy racist rant. These are just three examples in a growing trend.

Even more troubling, than those individual instances, is the increase in the lack of compassion from elected officials. Cutting off food stamps for the working poor, cutting unemployment, refusing to expand Medicaid in states with Republican Governors are just a few examples.

The VA scandal is another. It takes a pretty heartless person to delay care to a wounded Vet.  Many people in politics saw the VA scandal as a great chance to attack the President and the Administration. Many of those same people say they would have left Sergeant Bergdahl in enemy hands which, if you think about it, is sort of the ultimate denial of care.

America was founded on looking out for each other, "promote the general welfare" is in the Constitution. Clearly the Founders knew that the great social contract that Americans are part of requires us to prop up those fellow citizens who need it. Instead of propping up Sergeant Bergdahl and his family, he has been brutally attacked. Some have called him a traitor, a deserter and worse.  Many have called for his execution.

People have said, what about having compassion for the families of the soldiers killed looking for Bergdahl. I'd respond to that by saying, why are compassion for the families of the dead and compassion for Bergdahl and his family mutually exclusive?

Americans used to be thought of as a great and generous people.  American exceptionalism wasn't just about how much money we made or how many skyscrapers we built. Americans were seen as exceptional because of our kindness, our willingness to help, we welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, yearning to be free.

Now, it seems we're tired of the poor and the huddled masses, those yearning to be free.  We've got no time for them, if they can't do it themselves, too bad.  In short, we've lost our compassion.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

John Paul II's Canonization and Victims of Sexual Abuse

Trigger Warning

Last week, a young man in the village of Cevo, Italy was crushed when a giant crucifix that honored John Paul II fell over. John Paul was the leader of the Catholic Church for 27 years. The sexual abuse of children and the legacy of  cover-ups and inaction that happened on his watch crushed uncounted thousands. 
 
I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic Schools. In college I went to a Catholic University and among other things, I took 25 hours of Theology.  Not quite enough for a major, but more than a lot of people.   also majored in Psychology and through a somewhat winding path ended up spending the last 20 years investigating child abuse. 

Working with survivors of sexual abuse, talking to children about the abuse they suffered is no easy task. It's even more difficult when the abuser is a member of the Clergy in any religion. If the abuser is a Priest it is almost impossible to get justice for the victim. 

John Paul II was the Pope during the horrific Priest sexual abuse scandals that were made public in the 90's and into the early 2000's.  He was aware of the scandal, and was made aware of Priests who were multiple time offenders.  Yet nothing was done until 2001, when he directed Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict, to deal with the scandal.     

Many say that much of the abuse happened before John Paul was Pope. Saying that John Paul is somehow absolved because people were abused 20-30 years before making complaints, is that same thing as saying Joe Paterno should be absolved of the scorn and derision he has received. 

In fact, the Catholic Priest sex abuse scandal is Penn State writ large.  An open secret known to many, if not all, in power.  Those in power turned a blind eye to the abuse.  Many more children were victimized as a result of institutional inaction.  The comparisons can go on right on to the current leaders of both Penn State and the Church gamely trying to move on and refocus on the healing of the victims.  

I know a few adult survivors of sexual abuse by Priests. Some I have met through my job, two I know from elsewhere and they confided in me in confidence.  What they all have in common, is that they were abused after John Paul II was made Pope. Some disclosed and some did not. 

We know that Cardinals all over the United States from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston were actively covering up sexual abuse by Priests in the 80's, 90's and 2000's.  To say most of this happened before he was Pope is naive at best and an outright obfuscation at worst.  Due to the stigma attached to victims when they disclose, there's a great possibility that there are thousands up thousands of victims worldwide that we'll never know about.  

Another thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that the abuse of children by Priests is still going on. The Priests may face punishment sooner than in the past, but that hasn't stopped the behavior.  The same forces that kept victims silent 30 years ago, are still in play today.  Priests who abuse are no different than anyone else who abuses. 

On April, 27, the Catholic Church made two men Saints.  One man modernized the Church in the 1960's. The other turned a blind eye to the most egregious case of wide spread, institutional sexual abuse of children in recorded history.  Making John Paul II a Saint, is a slap in the face of people who were sexually abused by Priests.








Monday, April 14, 2014

Nancy Grace and the Death of Decency.

*Trigger warning* 

Over the weekend, Utah authorities found the remains of seven infants, allegedly killed by their mother, Megan Huntsman.  According to reports, she admitted to killing six of them by strangulation or suffocation. The seventh was allegedly still born.

This is a tragedy rarely seen.  As a twenty year veteran of Child Protective Services, I've been to far too many autopsies of babies and children. Going to seven at one time? Even for my thick skin, that would be a challenge.

Fortunately, though, we have Nancy Grace to guide us through the gruesome details.  Ms. Grace has a history of taking a special interest in nationally known cases that involve the death of children.  Her Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman coverage were nonpareil, because no-one in major media today likes to pick the bones of dead children like Ms. Grace.

Tonight it what can only be described as a window to her soul  empty place where her soul should be, her official Twitter Account tweeted this:

Shocking new details: Cops say a Utah mom admits to strangling or suffocating her 6 newborn babies http://on.hln.tv/7sn7nG 


And the Hash Tag #BoxesofBabies has gone unchecked.

While many people chalk this up to normal TV sensationalism, I take personal offense.  The death of children is not a glib, funny tweet. It's not an alliterative hash tag. It's real life.

After seeing the tweet from Ms. Grace's account I went on a Twitter rant that probably means nothing to her. Unfortunately what Ms. Grace deems as a good news story and a ratings grabber, has far more serious consequences outside the TV studio.

The people who responded to the home, be they Sheriff's deputies, CPS, Firefighters or paramedics, aren't going to forget this scene any time soon.  They won't be spreading heartless tweets or being glib about headlines that say boxes of babies.  They are men and women, human to the core that will take this to the grave.

Maybe Ms. Grace and her staffers are unaware of PTSD, because you know, it's never in the news.  People who do this for a living, who deal with horrors that Ms. Grace can only blab about, have a very high rate of PTSD.  Rolling up on the death of one person is hard enough.  Seven babies? Don't even want to think about the nightmares.

These were seven tragic souls, their mother, most certainly mentally ill, or as Nancy Grace likes to call them: ratings.

I'll end this post with a simple question with regards to Joseph Welch.  Have you no decency Ms. Grace? I think we all know the answer.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

For Shame: Matt Lauer's Interview of Dottie Sandusky

In what can only be described as the worst kind of sensationalism, NBC's Today Show Host, Matt Lauer conducted an interview of Dottie Sandusky, the wife of convicted child rapist, Jerry Sandusky.  As most people with a brain would surmise, Mrs. Sandusky thinks her husband is innocent despite being found guilty of 47 counts of child sexual abuse.

The interview was conducted at the Sandusky home. Sitting next to to a forlorn and tearful Sandusky was John Ziegler, noted grifter, scam artist and Joe Paterno apologist.  While the interview as ostensibly about Sandusky, Ziegler was able to work in " the unjust firing of Joe Paterno" about halfway through.

The entire thing was distasteful for many reasons. Dottie Sandusky said her husband is innocent of the chargers against him.  They're not charges, he was convicted.  Ziegler said he's met with Sandusky and now believes he's innocent.  Even Matt Lauer got in on the fun, at one point outside the basement bedroom in which at least one boy was raped, Lauer said that "this is the bedroom in which some of the accusers say the abuse happened".  Sorry Matt, they're not accusers, they're victims and they don't say things happened. They happened. Sandusky was convicted.

I have known many Dottie Sanduskys in 20 years of child abuse investigation. It may sound incredible to the average person, but there are spouses every day who don't believe their spouse sexually abused a child.  The number of spouses/paramours who believe the adult over the child would truly shock most of you. I don't know if Dottie is naive, mentally ill, in denial or all of the above. What I do know is that her response wasn't a surprise to me.

What was a surprise was NBC's decision to green light the story.  They gave a fringe element of truly horrible people led by the Snidely Whiplash of Paterno apologists, John Ziegler, a national platform. The entire interview ran for 51 minutes. 51 minutes of calling the victims liars, Dottie: "I didn't say they lied, I said I don't believe their story". 51 minutes of calling the victims grifters, again Dottie: "I think they were manipulated by the lawyers for money". 51 minutes of Ziegler saying things like "Its not PC to call a victim a liar".

My question for all involved is simple. Do you have any idea how hard it is for victims, especially male victims to disclose sexual abuse? I do. Hundreds of children have told me about their sexual abuse. Without exaggeration, boys who were abused as adolescents are almost impossible to get to disclose.

Current statistics indicate that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been or are being sexually abused. The numbers are skewed because of the lack of  disclosure by boys. Boys often don't tell because the stigma that can be attached to their abuse.  Unfortunately society teaches boys to be tough and being violated is the antithesis of being tough in their minds. Getting them to tell what happened takes patience and skill.

Now imagine that you've disclosed a horrible thing.  You've survived a long and contentious trial. Your abuser was found guilty, and a major network calls into question your honesty, your motivation, and allows two people to continue peddling a narrative that is completely false. Imagine how you'd feel when Dottie Sandusky hinted at "evidence that can't be revealed yet".

Victims already feel shame because they were abused. Victims blame themselves without any help from the media. If you were a victim and hadn't disclosed, would the treatment of the Sandusky victims by Lauer and NBC make you more or less likely to tell?

What Lauer and NBC fail to realize, or maybe they realize it and don't care, child sexual abuse cases are almost always about child disclosure vs. perpetrator denial. There is seldom physical evidence or confessions. In the Sandusky case, a jury heard the testimony of the victims and found Sandusky guilty.  This is not a case in which "both sides" are valid.

Jerry Sandusky is an evil man, his wife is either a naif, a patsy or a co-conspirator.  John Ziegler is the lowest form of human sleeze, one step removed from the pedophile he supports.  They don't get to argue their 'side' of the story because their side is a lie.

Unfortunately, for the victims of Sandusky and victims everywhere, NBC, The Today Show and Matt Lauer decided that lie needed 51 minutes.