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.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Daddy Has a Whoopin' Room

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse

In a stunning announcement Friday, Adrian Peterson, a professional football player for the Minnesota Vikings was indicted for child abuse.  He allegedly beat his 4 year old son with a switch after the child shoved his brother.

Police reports detail the child's account and it is harrowing. Not only did he get beat with a switch, but claims that belts had been used in the past. Expressed fear of being punched for telling and at one point said "Daddy has a whoopin' room".

Photos taken a week later show red welts and scabbing cuts. Peterson allegedly injured the child's back, buttocks, legs, thighs and scrotum.  He also texted the child's mother in what can only be termed a gloating tone. Saying at one point he "got too good with the switch".  He admitted to police that he did it and it was discipline.

Today we learned that Peterson's employer, decided to let him play despite the evidence.  Relying on 'due process' and the criminal system.  It should be noted that Texas CPS has probably already had a "founded" report no matter what happens in the criminal case.

Adrian Peterson is famous and that makes this a sensational case, but he's certainly not the only child abuser in the country. The injuries that he inflicted on his four year old son are horrible and it's almost impossible not to be furious at what happened to that child. Sadly that child is not alone. Peterson's excuse that he was just disciplining the way he was disciplined is an all too familiar refrain.

(Bloggers note: Some details have been altered to protect confidentiality)

The first time I met Adrian Peterson, the name wasn't Adrian Peterson. I honestly don't remember what the name was. I remember the little girl whose eyes were swollen shut and whose forehead skin was scalded almost to the bone.  The child had put too much 'grease' in her hair so as a punishment she was held face up under scalding (150 degree) tap water. That was 1995.

In the most recent reporting year there were 3.4 million reports of child abuse and neglect made to hotlines around the country.  Of those 1.8 million were opened as investigations. On those 1.8 million cases there were 3.1 million unique children. There are 32,000 Child Protective Service Workers in the US. 32,000 people investigating 1.8 million cases. It's safe to say we've all met Adrian Petersen.

In 1999 Adrian Peterson was a mom's boyfriend who beat a 2 year old so severely that the blood beneath the skin was trapped by the diaper he was wearing. When the diaper was removed it looked like the kid was wearing brown, read and purple underwear. He was mad about potty training.

Potty training is one of the most dangerous times in child development.  The risk of abuse over and during potty training rises dramatically. In the last twenty years I can attest to a mound of anecdotal evidence of abuse during potty training.  Anybody who does this job can relate to it.

In 2001, Adrian Peterson was a guy gave a 3 year old a cookie when she performed oral sex on him. Turns out that was a pattern of abuse that had gone on for years with other 3 year olds and younger children. He's in prison for the rest of his life.

In 2012 there were over 62,000 children reported to have been sexually abused.  The number is probably significantly higher. Some states report sexual abuse directly to police. Some types of sexual abuse aren't counted in the Manual of Child Maltreatment.  Sexual abuse by teachers for instance in many states aren't reported to CPS.

Adrian Peterson was a teenage mom in 2008.  She was arguing with her mom and snatched her baby out of his car seat dislocating his shoulder.  She didn't know why he wouldn't stop crying and proceeded to slap his face. The police were called, nobody caught the dislocation for 2 days.

Twenty five percent of children who are abused experience teen pregnancy. Of those parenting teens fully 30% of them will abuse or neglect their child at some point in the future.

Peterson is the guy that blackened his son's eye in 2010 when the kid tried to keep his dad from beating his mom. Arrests were made but no charges were pressed. The kid was old enough that while he was certainly at risk, he wasn't in immediate danger.

As we've discussed before.  Domestic abusers are 50% more likely to abuse a child as well.

Adrian Peterson is the policeman, the firefighter, the teacher, the doctor that delivered your baby. Adrian Peterson is a single mom on welfare. Adrian Peterson is a millionaires wife popping illegal prescriptions. Adrian Peterson is your mail carrier, your next door neighbor and your best friend.

Everybody who investigates child abuse has met Adrian Peterson or will at some point in their career. We all wish that child abuse would end and we'd no longer be needed to protect the most vulnerable in our midst.  We're all smart enough to know better.  Adrian Peterson was out there today and he'll be out there tomorrow. We'll tackle him as we go.





Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ray Rice Isn't Unique, Domestic Violence is a Sad Fact of Life for Many Americans


Due to the Ray Rice case, domestic violence has been featured prominently in the news this week. It has been the topic of many columns and editorials. It's an epidemic in America.  It is a daily fact of life for millions of people. Sadly far too many of them are children. 

In the field of Child Protection domestic violence is is something that we are very familiar with. Fully 50% of child abuse and neglect cases either directly involve domestic violence or after digging into the case it's found there was a history of domestic violence.

Domestic violence that children witness stays with them.  Not only is this a verifiable fact, I can personally attest to it in a small way. 

When I was 8 years old there was huge family argument at my grandfather's house, there was yelling, some shoving and at least one person got slapped.  Cooler heads prevailed and everyone calmed down and apologized, but even though it was 38 years ago, the memory is still with me.

It's safe to say that a child who witnesses their parent being hit, or punched, spit on or choked, will take it with them.  The trauma of seeing a parent abused often takes years to overcome, and people who have experienced this often need professional counseling to work through it.  


Witnessing domestic violence also breeds more domestic violence.  Statistics show that many women who are battered as adults witnessed domestic violence as children.  Men who witnessed domestic violence as are twice as likely to batter a partner or child as an adult. 


When I started as an investigator 20 years ago, I didn't understand domestic violence at all. I, like most people, thought the decision for a battered partner was a simple one. Leave. Take your kids and go.

I remember cases in which I was so frustrated with the mother, I threatened her with taking her kids. That was the paradigm back then. Re-victimize the victim. I was young and thought I knew everything. The years and extensive training around domestic violence have taught me otherwise.

As was brilliantly and painfully depicted on Twitter by the Hashtags #WhyIStayed and  #WhenILeft, the decisions by victims of violence aren't always easy. The reasons for staying the reasons for leaving are complex.  Often victims and their children are financially dependent on the batterer.  Victims also express that they think it will end or that they can fix the batterer.  Reasons for leaving range from realizing the abuse would never stop to wanting to show their kids that abuse wasn't normal. 

When I investigate these cases now, we talk about how I can help that person make themselves and their children safe.  Sometimes that means counseling and casework services for the victim, the children and the batterer, sometimes it means driving the victim and children to a shelter. 

It should be noted that while the majority of cases I investigate involve heterosexual couples, domestic violence is prevalent in the LGBT community as well.  Some studies show it may be more prevalent as a percentage of the population  than heterosexual couples. We don't see it as much in child abuse and neglect cases because there aren't as many same sex couples with children. 

While we focus on supporting the victims and keeping them safe, I think we also need more focus on helping those who batter.  As a profession we tend to label the batterer, and not really focus on helping them learn and grow.  We as a nation do a woefully inadequate job of teaching young people, mostly young men how to check their impulses. 

We set up the expectation that men are tough, machismo is to be lauded and we reinforce it by rewarding young men for their macho behavior.  It is imperative that more focus be placed on educating that a fist a club or a gun isn't the answer when things don't go their way.  I have jokingly said it's simple "don't hit a woman" but the pathology that creates these situations isn't simple.  

As mentioned earlier, many male batterers were abused themselves or witnessed abuse.  I've spoken to thousands of batterers in the last twenty years.  Over half of them related that they were abused, or they witnessed their mother getting abused, often saying "that's just the way we were raised".   It is incredibly challenging to make a breakthrough with someone who was conditioned from a young age to solve problems by lashing out.  Sadly, I've seen far too many of these men more than one time. 

Domestic violence isn't going away because Ray Rice can't run with a football for money, or Roger Goodell golden parachutes into obscurity.  Domestic violence isn't going away because we publicly humiliate abusers, but let's hope that the awareness spurred on by this week's events doesn't go away either. It is at least a start.

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.