Child Protection and Schools

Since I left the Department of Justice in 2012, I have tried to focus on the prevention side of child protection.  I have trained law enforcement, child advocacy center personnel, and other professionals in understanding offender behavior and how to conduct child exploitation investigations and prosecutions.  But the most important effort, I think, has been with schools.  I have spoken to staff, students and faculty about grooming, digital literacy, offender behavior, and technology monitoring.

I went to Central America last fall to help a school investigate a claim of inappropriate behavior by a staff member toward children.  These interactions with schools give me hope that prevention is possible.  It is a great feeling to arm teachers, students and staff with knowledge about the dangers of child exploitation.  Specifically, though, I try to impart the kind of knowledge that will prevent a child from ever being exploited.  And that is the goal:  prevention.  So, when I see a school embroiled in a child pornography investigation, I am distressed.  So many schools to get to, so little time.

In the latest, tragic, example, a coach at a school in Indiana is being investigated for child pornography.  The investigators are part of the same team that brought down Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.  I know this team well, they are dedicated, talented professionals whose overriding goal is to bring child offenders to justice.  I have no doubt they had strong evidence before they began their investigation.  Tragically, the school’s headmaster committed suicide this weekend after being interviewed in the case.  I certainly won’t speculate as to why, but I can’t help but wonder if this could have been prevented had this school reached out to experts for child protection training.

A school in Minnesota took a proactive approach last fall, and asked me to conduct a full two-day training for them.  I spent a full day training their students, faculty and staff, then another day with community members the school generously invited to attend.  I hope I reached them all, especially the children. Knowledge is power for adults and kids when it comes to protecting against those who want to exploit children.  I simply don’t understand schools that ignore the problem.  It is shocking to me that schools don’t provide in-depth training on grooming and offender behavior to educators.  Equally shocking is their complete lack of security policy on their technology to prevent, or at least detect, the trafficking in images of child pornography.

I realize that such training isn’t free, but what is prevention worth?  What is the price to children being sexually abused?  Aren’t they worth it?  Shattuck St Mary article on FDH training

Condoning the Rape of Little Boys?

It has taken me a couple of days to calm down enough even to write about the latest story of the sexual exploitation of children.  This time, it is my own government that is guilty.  I admit, I am one of those patriotic types.  I tend to tear up at the National Anthem and when I hear about the bravery of our troops who fight and die to protect me and mine.  But this, this latest story has me nearly speechless with rage.  Two brave Marines learned of an Afghan man holding young boys in sexual slavery ON A U.S. BASE in Afghanistan.  Reports say some personnel have routinely heard young boys screaming and crying at night while being sexually assaulted.  These two Marines, having had enough of these reports, found the man and delivered some well deserved frontier justice.  Enough, they apparently thought, of reporting these abuses up the chain of command and being ignored.  Enough, they thought, of reporting the rape of little boys to Afghan authorities and being ignored.  In one instance, they reported the rape of a 14 year old girl to Afghan authorities.  What happened?  The Afghan rapist was sentenced to one day in prison.  The innocent girl? She was sentenced to life imprisonment:  she was forced to marry her rapist!  What have we become?  When did we decide it was ok to ignore the rape and sexual slavery of children because it was expedient?  And those two hero Marines?  Cashiered out of the military for daring to take on this horrific policy of condoning rape and exacting some small measure of justice for the victims.

This is not the country I love and was proud to serve as a public prosecutor for 16 years.  Protecting children is never a hard choice.  At least, it shouldn’t be.  All the officials asked to comment since the story broke in the NY Times have either said “ask someone else,” or “there is no such official policy to ignore child rape,” as if looking the other way is acceptable.  Nelson Mandela said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  This country has lost its soul.  And I’m disgusted by it. I sincerely hope those responsible, including every person who stood silently by and let children be raped, are held to account for it.  I hope they never get another moment’s peace or rest.  Like the children they failed.

How Could A Bishop Hide A Child Abuser?

I simply don’t understand how this keeps happening.  My inbox is full, every day, of cases where schools, employers, youth organizations, and churches ignore all the evidence in front of their eyes and fail to act to protect children.  The most recent story is appalling.  In 2012, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was convicted – not just accused, but convicted – of failing to report child abuse.  He apparently found a priest in his diocese in possession of child pornography on his computer.  Did he report this to police?  No.  Did he call child services to aid the children depicted in the images of child sexual assault?  No.  He sent the priest to a therapist and told him to stay away from children.  I’m sure that is a comfort to all the children the priest abused by trafficking in the images of their sexual assault.

I must admit, all the lessons, speeches, training, documents, studies etc over the last few years have apparently aided children very little.  When a Bishop, after all the church scandals of the past couple decades, all the coaching scandals, the teacher scandals, still fails to call the authorities when he catches a priest abusing children by trafficking in the horror of their abuse, well, we have all failed.  We are failing these children.  As I have said in this space before, I have had to view the images of children being abused.  It is indescribably awful.  There is absolutely no excuse for this failure by the Bishop.  None.  And the fact that the Church waited nearly three years to act on the Bishop’s contribution to the abuse of children, and even now has allowed the Bishop to resign, is disgusting.  The news account I link to at the end of this post doesn’t say, but I sincerely hope the Bishop went to jail.  Sadly, I doubt it.  The conviction was probably a misdemeanor.  What is the violation of the public trust worth?  What is the violation of human decency worth?  What are the children Bishop Finn disregarded in their most urgent time of need worth?  Apparently nothing.  At least, nothing to Bishop Finn and the Catholic Church.

The Worst of the Worst: Predators Targeting Babies

I made another appearance on TheLip.TV’s show Crime Time here in Los Angeles this afternoon.  If you don’t subscribe to their YouTube Channel, you should!  The show features the juxtaposition of the law and current events.  The host of the show is Allison Hope Weiner.  On today’s show, we discussed some of the most disturbing kinds of child sexual abuse cases:  those where the offender has a deviant sexual interest in infants.  I know, it doesn’t seem real but it is.  The very worst images I ever had to view during my time as a federal prosecutor were those that featured toddlers and infants.  I will never forget them.  I wish I could.  How could anyone think it is ok for these people to live outside prison walls?  For the full interview, please go to

Movie with a Heart

I recently had the opportunity to see a movie called “Nowhere Safe.” It is a great film with an important message. It tackles cyberbullying in a refreshing way. In the film, a teen is victimized by a harsh online campaign, which causes her and her mother to move to a new town to escape the backlash. But, moving only delays the inevitable, and the teen is once again harassed in her new school. The movie has great acting and good role models in the teen’s mom and a concerned teacher. I highly recommend it! It will be on cable this Sunday. You can find more information about it here:

Justice Denied For Victims of Child Pornography

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling in a case called Paroline v. United States.  In this case, Paroline was convicted in federal court of child pornography offenses involving a child named Amy (not her real name), who was sexually assaulted by a relative in 1999.  (This relative captured the images of Amy’s sexual assault and sent them to others via the Internet.  He was convicted.)  Paroline was found with some of the images of Amy’s sexual abuse, which began surfacing on the Internet some years after the original offender was convicted.  In the law describing the offense and the available punishment for those who traffick in the images of the sexual abuse of children is a provision allowing the victims depicted in these images to receive restitution from the offenders.  Restitution, which is ordered in many kinds of criminal cases, is designed to provide reimbursement for things like past or future psychological counseling and lost wages that resulted from the victim’s suffering from this crime.

The issue of restitution in child pornography cases is complicated by a statute written by Congress that many judges, including some on the Supreme Court, find confusing and difficult to comply with.  This is compounded by the circumstances that arise almost uniquely in child pornography cases:  hundreds or even thousands of offenders unrelated and unknown to each other, and even separated by years between their individual offenses, and who commit crimes in every State in the country, all commit a similar crime against the same victim.  In order to receive restitution in any of these cases, victims must appear in the court where the offender is being prosecuted and provide proof of these losses.  For six years, Amy and a few other victims have been doing exactly that.  Amy has provided information on her need for psychological counseling and other harms in literally hundreds of cases across the US.  Her images, however, have been seen in more than 3,200 federal and state cases since 2006.  

It is simply impossible for Amy or anyone else to appear in every case where every offender has victimized her.  But that, essentially, is what the Supreme Court held yesterday. (When they denied the lower court’s order that Paroline pay Amy the full amount of her claims.)  They decided that no single offender should have to pay Amy for her total losses.  Rather, Amy must pursue, and prove, her restitution claim in every case her images appear in order to fairly apportion, or divide, her losses among the total pool of offenders.  This means that the burden is upon Amy, the victim, to appear in hundreds or even thousands of cases from now until, presumably, the end of time in order to gain compensation for the harm done to her.  I’d like to know how on earth any Judge will decide what is a fair apportionment for any given defendant, considering there might be hundreds or thousands of defendants in similar situations in the future.  Is this justice for Amy?  Not even remotely.

I hope Congress acts quickly to correct this monstrous injustice to victims of child pornography.  They are victimized when they are sexually assaulted and again every single time some nasty offender collects, trades, or distributes the images of that sexual abuse.  Now, it seems, they will continue to be victimized by being forced into multiple courts, facing multiple offenders, and likely for many years, before they are able to recover for their losses.  Every single offender owes Amy full restitution. (And, the law is clear, once she receives the full amount, she is entitled to no more.)  The Court, however, has essentially said that each offender will benefit from the deviant marketplace they themselves have helped create and will only owe Amy and others like her some small, and certainly incomplete, portion of her losses.  She will be forced to repeatedly pursue her claims.  Once again, pedophile offenders escape responsibility and victims are denied justice.  Why is justice only swift and sure for those hurting kids?

Another Child Failed By The Justice System

News broke this week about the case of du Pont heir Robert Richards, who was sentenced in 2008 to probation by a Delaware judge.  Did he get caught with marijuana, embezzle some corporate funds, or get caught driving while drunk?  No, he sexually assaulted his little girl.  This 6 foot 4, 270 pound man raped his daughter sometime before her 5th birthday.  She disclosed the abuse to her grandmother in late 2007 and Richards was charged and prepared for a June 2008 trial.  Before trial, however, the prosecutor inexplicably agreed to reduce the charges to those that carry no mandatory minimum and only a 15-year maximum sentence.  In a turn not just inexplicable but downright outrageous, the prosecutor actually recommended Richards be sentenced to probation.  Having investigated and prosecuted hundreds and hundreds of crimes against children myself, I understand that sometimes the child is unable to testify (and/or the defendant’s confession/evidence against him is thrown out on legal grounds) and this can lead to a necessary reduction in charges to induce a guilty plea.  Some jail time is better than none, after all.  Here, however, there was at least a 15-year sentence possible on the charge the defendant admitted to.  There is simply no excuse for not recommending the maximum available.  

The judge’s decision is outside the control of the prosecutor, obviously, but the recommendation is critical.  A good prosecutor makes persuasive arguments at sentencing and convinces the judge, especially in crimes against children, that harsh sentences are necessary for punishment, retribution, and the protection of society.  These are the goals of the US criminal justice system.  It might not be perfect, but it can work. 

This case represents the utter failure of the criminal justice system for this child.  It appears that investigators provided the tools the prosecutor needed in this case.  The defendant admitted sexually assaulting the child and a trial was set, all in a fairly short time period.  Mysteriously, a plea to a lesser crime was offered and accepted, but the system could still have achieved a passably just outcome.  Then, in 2009, the prosecutor recommended probation and the judge agreed.  Epic fail.

 It appears to me the prosecutor completely abdicated her duty to justice.  How on earth is probation justifiable in child rape?  So, let me get this straight:  rich defendant rapes his little girl and the prosecutor, the sword arm of justice, agrees he should be free to loll about his million dollar estate while his child spends a lifetime suffering for what he did?  Where is the justice in that?

The judge, supposedly a tough sentencer, seems to have abandoned her role as arbiter of how best to mete out punishment and protect society.  A child rapist won’t “fare well” in prison, she says, so let’s let him see a shrink and cavort with his trust fund money while a little girl grows up and tries to recover despite knowing her rapist went unpunished.  In her sentencing order, the judge said “treatment needs exceed need for punishment.” For a child rapist? So, the judge is saying her primary concern in this case is the rapist’s mental well-being?  Seriously?  This sentence shows very clearly that this judge cares little, if at all, about victims of rape.  Where in the order does she note how society will be protected from this rapist in the future, or how this sentence is just punishment for the heinous crime committed? Instead, she expresses concern with how the rich rapist will fare in prison and orders him to forego pornography in his mansion.  How is this judge, with such incredibly poor judgment, allowed to don a black robe and take the bench?  Lady Justice, blindfolded with her sword and scales, must surely weep at this case.

You might ask yourself why we are just now hearing about a sentencing that took place in 2009.  It is a mystery why this atrocious outcome got no notice when it happened.  It has come to light now because the child’s mother is suing the rapist on the child’s behalf, now seeking herself the justice that was denied her in the criminal case.  I hope she gets every penny he has.  It will still be small comfort. 

 The judge and the Attorney General’s office have some serious explaining to do.  Will anyone demand accountability?  If no one pays attention, nothing changes.  How sad and tragic.