Saturday, September 21, 2013

Poor Excuses

I've waited a few days to weigh in on Congresses decision to cut SNAP funds as part of trying to pass the Farm Bill.  It was hard enough to not splutter on in impotent rage on Twitter and Facebook, so a few days delay seemed like a good idea.

In the intervening days, I've seen what can only be called an assault on the poor by a lot of people on the right. One friend, Herb Lawrence, over on Facebook wrote persuasively about the need for programs like SNAP and his mentions included a number of people who generally think that lazy no-goods get all the free food they want.

I have a special empathy for poor people.  Part of it is because I work daily with people who are poor and are just scraping buy. True some of these people have issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, but most do not.  They're just people who lost a job, or are working for minimum wage and trying to raise kids.  Contrary to popular belief they're not all deadbeat people of color looking for a handout from Uncle Sam. In fact a significant part of the population I see are white. National statistics bear this out as 60 percent of SNAP recipients are white.

The other reason that I'm particularly sensitive to the issues of the poor, is that for a significant portion of my childhood, I was poor.  Not just white people poor, not able to get Nike's every 3 months, I mean government cheese poor. My parents were hardworking people who did everything they could to improve our station.

My earliest memories of my parents working was when I was 5 or so, Mom worked at Pennys and Dad was a tire salesman.  They worked long hours to put food on our table and that was supplemented occasionally by my grandparents giving us meat from cattle they had slaughtered.  We had cars that barely ran and rented places that were cheap and drafty. Mom made my velour shirts and there were plenty of yard sale pairs of pants.

Dad continued on at the tire store and mom worked at Penny's until I was in the 4th or 5th grade. Dad got a job at a corn refinery in Clinton IA, Clinton Corn, which later became ADM.  He worked rotating shifts but made a good wage and mom didn't have to work if she didn't want to.

Then came 1982 and the Farm Crisis.  Dad along with a lot of other people lost their jobs,  the economy of Clinton, IA took a massive hit.  We lived on unemployment, borrowed from family and accepted government handouts of cheese, butter and peanut butter. I remember how tormented my parents were about accepting handouts. These were proud people who felt that they somehow failed.

About a year later, Dad did get a job in housekeeping at the local hospital and mom went to work as the TV rental lady at the same hospital.  Later she hooked on as an admissions clerk at the hospital.  Total combined salary was a little over 20K per year.

The current crop of me first Republicans and Libertarians don't have the first idea about poor people.  They think and by extension their constituents think that poor people are lazy, stupid and black.  They're wrong. An overwhelming number of poor people are white just like my parents. No matter what their race, poor people are proud and hardworking but need assistance getting back to middle class, to help their kids get ahead and maybe retire before they're 90.

Stripping 4 Billion dollars a year from SNAP is a infinitesimal amount of the Federal Budget. This is a symbolic shaming of poor people for being poor.  They claim that people need to take responsibility to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  How in the world are poor people supposed to do that when like my parents they go through times that they have no bootstraps left?

Congress and especially Teaparty conservatives might see all of this as excuse making for poor people.  As my dear departed mother once said, "for being so called leaders, these idiots in Congress are a poor excuse."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Richard Dawkins is Wrong About the Effects of Sexual Abuse.

It seems that not a week goes by that somebody doesn't say something completely wrong about child sexual abuse. This week's winner is Richard Dawkins, noted biologist and atheist. He's also woefully uninformed about the lasting trauma of child abuse in general and child sexual abuse in particular.

(The following paragraph includes Dawkins description of his abuse, if this may be triggering, please skip to graph 3)

In a recent interview with Time Magazine he tried to defend what he termed "mild pedophilia" as not having a lasting harm on children. He quoted his own experience in Boarding School when a school master pulled him on his lap and put his hand down his pants. He dismissed this as "mild touching up", and went on to say this same teacher abused some of his friends. He proclaimed: "I don't think he did any of us lasting harm".

First off, how would Mr. Dawkins know who suffered lasting harm and who didn't?  The psychological scars of child sexual abuse manifest themselves in myriad ways.  Maybe he nor any of his mates turned into pedophiles, but that doesn't mean there was no harm.

Before I continue on, I'd like to clarify something.  I'm using the terms pedophile and pedophilia because Mr. Dawkins did. In point of fact pedophile is a DSM V diagnosis. True pedophiles are only sexually aroused by by children. Most child molesters aren't pedophiles. That's why we use the terms, child molester, child sexual abuser or in more unguarded moments "Baby raping fucks", but never pedophile.

For Richard Dawkins to casually toss off a riposte of "it's not so bad, I didn't have lasting harm" is as repugnant as it is arrogant.  He claims to be a man of science. A man who uses empirical data to reach a conclusion, in fact a visionary in the field of biology. Yet he uses anecdotal and emotional "evidence" that he's okay so no big deal? That doesn't just make him wrong, it makes him a hypocrite.  

A quick perusal of the statistics of alcoholism, drug abuse and other mental health issues, show a a shocking correlation with child sexual abuse.

A March 2012 Study published in the Journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research reported the following.  "Sexual abuse was associated with an increased likelihood of Anxiety Disorders as well as Alcoholism." "Previous studies have found that alcoholics have higher self-reported rates of physical and sexual abuse in childhood than people in the general population", Markus Heilig, clinical director at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in the journal news release.

A 1997 release from the Journal on Addictions reported that 75% of women in alcohol treatment programs report being sexually abused as children. 75%! 

This is clearly lasting harm and I got those statistics from a simple Google search. I don't have to search Google to see the lasting harm of sexual abuse. I see it daily when I go to work. Children who suddenly start bed wetting because of abuse. Children who cut because of abuse. Teens who smoke, drink, engage in unprotected or commercial sex or both because of sexual abuse. 

Back before I was a Child Protection Specialist, I worked for 3 1/2 years as a caseworker in a special program called Treatment Foster Care. It was basically a behavioral modification program in a foster home setting. The caseload was small just 7 kids per worker. These were the kids who were the most difficult to maintain due to behavior etc.  In the three years I probably had 25-30 kids cycle through. In my very first caseload of 7 all 7 had been sexually abused.  All of them got treatment and therapy for sexual abuse, yet all of them still had significant behavioral issues. 

I've written before of the 17 year old boy I interviewed who was sexually abused by a teacher and later committed suicide.  I'm sure Mr. Dawkins would qualify this as 'mild touching up'.  I dare him to tell that boys parents that "mild pedophilia" had no lasting effects.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Further Response to Betsy Karasik and the Washington Post.

Over the weekend I wrote up a piece a on why Betsy Karasik's Op-ed for The Washington Post was flat out wrong.  She opined that cases, like the Stacey Dean Rambold teacher rape case in Montana, should be decriminalized for several reasons. You can read my response here.  Suffice to say letting teachers get by with grooming and raping students is not a popular opinion in my profession.

One point that Ms. Karasik made, and has continued to make in social media, dealt with the stress of the criminal justice system and trial on the victim.  She believes and maybe rightly that the victim in the Rambold case, Cherice Morales committed suicide due to that stress.  There's no way to know for sure, but a reasonable inference could be made.

In almost 20 years of work as a Child Protection Professional, my ability to identify and understand the stress on victims has evolved.  When I first started I thought that every sex case should go to trial. That every perpetrator should get the maximum sentence and every kid who testified would feel better when justice was served.

Over time, I've come to understand that this is not always the best course of action.  Too many trial losses because the jury just couldn't be convinced that anyone could do that to a child. Too many defense attorneys finding the smallest flaws in a statement and turning that around on the child. Things happen and justice isn't always best served.  So when the State's Attorney makes a deal and gets a plea bargain, I'm all for it.

It is completely wrong headed to assert that the victims don't have stress, if the case doesn't go to trial. The stress of  the victimization is still the overriding factor in the victim's recovery. The best way to deal with the stress of a trial is to provide support and counseling during the process.

In the counties I work in, the victim support services have evolved along with my understanding of victims issues. When cases do go to trial, we have a wonderful counseling service the specializes in child sexual abuse that works with the Victim Coordinator at the State's Attorney's office to prep the child for testimony. The counties I cover include one fairly large urban population and two with rural populations. All three have made great strides in protecting and supporting the victims through the trial.

This protection and support starts at the outset of a case. Children here and all over the country are interviewed by forensic interviewers like myself at Children's Advocacy Centers.  The Advocacy Centers provide parents with support, counseling referrals and other services. Further, our Advocacy Centers have done presentations for the Judges in our Circuit to educate them about victim sensitivity. If it's done in three counties on the Mississippi river in Illinois, it can be done anywhere.

Bringing this back to Ms. Karasik's argument about decriminalization.  No. No. No. The victim is not better served by the perpetrator not facing justice in some form.  The victim is better served when we demand that the court process be more sensitive to victims, when we demand that readily available counseling services and victim support services are available in every jurisdiction not just those like mine that are forward thinking and lucky.

Victims deserve a voice. They deserve a fair and safe process. They deserve closure.  None of these things happen if as Ms. Karasik suggests, teacher/student rape be decriminalized.  That doesn't protect the victim. It only makes it easier for these predators to keep hunting.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Consent Decrees: Why Betsy Karasik and The Washington Post Are Wrong About Teen Aged Girls

I've been an investigator of child abuse for almost 20 years. I've investigated over three thousand cases of abuse and hundreds of cases of sexual abuse.  Many of those cases involved sex abuse of teens by teachers. To say I know a thing or two about Teacher/Student sex and consent is an understatement.  That's why the Washington Post Op-Ed penned by Betsy Karasik about Stacey Dean Rambold is just flat out wrong.

If the subject of the op-ed doesn't ring a bell.  Rambold was convicted of raping a 14 year old student, Cherice Morales when he was 50.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail by judge G. Todd Baugh.  Baugh saying that Morales was "as much in control of the situation".  Karasik argues that teen aged students can consent to adults. More on that presently, but first, an example of why the Judge, and Karasik just don't  get it. 

In the course of my career, I investigated a case of child sexual abuse between a respected teacher and a 16 year old boy.  The boy disclosed shortly after his 17th birthday.  He gave a credible statement that his teacher fondled his penis multiple times.  

Since the family requested no prosecution, it was left to me to speak to the teacher and inform the school. I did so, and when confronting the teacher, he admitted that he had fondled the boy.  I indicated the report and the teacher resigned.   

Several months later through the official DCFS appeal process, the teacher won his appeal. The DCFS attorney and Manager who reviewed the case said that the incidents were not "sexual abuse" because of the age of the child, the fact there may have been consent and the fact that it did not happen at school. This decision was made even though according to IL Statutes, a teacher is always a teacher. 

Sometime there after, the victim committed suicide. 

The heart of Ms. Karasik's opinion seems to be that teen aged girls have sex on the mind as do teen aged boys. This is true in the abstract.  It's also true that girls have had affairs with teachers for millenia. She conflates sex between teens and teachers and sex with college professors, however. That is a false equivalence and frankly just kind of dumb. College students who have sex with professors are adults, and therefore able to consent. 

It's true on its face, that teenagers are maturing/mature sexually. They have sex on the brain as Ms. Karasik points out.  The gray hair in my Van Dyke can attest to being the father of a quickly developing 13 year old daughter.

What Ms. Karasik fails to understand, or maybe she does and she's just not saying, these developing teens have normal appetites for each other. For other teens, kids their own age and maybe a little older. My daughter may think that Mr. X the science teacher is cute, but she is not eyeing him with the idea of dating and possible sexual relations. 

On the other hand, teachers who have sex with teens, are looking at the child in nothing but sexual terms. They use their position of authority over the children and gradually groom them until they are in an intimate situation, of which the teacher takes full advantage.  

I think most people agree that teens can "consent" to that first fumbling in the back of 1974 Chevy Caprice Classic, with another teen.  That's not what we are talking about here. A teacher using a child for sex is no different than a priest doing the same thing.  No different from Jerry Sandusky.  

Ms Karasik seems to think  the trauma of going through a trial doesn't help the victim and in fact delays their healing. She's as wrong about this as she is about everything else in the work.  Especially in cases like this where the perpetrator confessed and plead guilty, the closure for the victim is vital to their ongoing recovery. We'll never know how Cherice would have responded because she, like the boy in my case, committed suicide. 

Finally, Ms. Karasik closes with a pretty ridiculous reason we should excuse teachers who sexually abuse students: "If religious leaders and heads of state can’t keep their pants on, with all they have to lose, why does society expect that members of other professions can be coerced into meeting this standard?" 

So holding people to account for sexually abusing children is a ridiculous standard because religious people and Bill Clinton can't keep their pants up?  I seem to remember Clinton being impeached and at last tally the Catholic Church is bankrupt paying for priests who abused children. In my world those are pretty severe consequences.

A better question is: how can we not hold teachers to  a "ridiculously high standard"?