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.  http://delonline.us/1lyztq3

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Child Pornography and a Murdered Child

When I was a prosecutor, I heard many defense attorneys, defendants, families, and friends argue that the men who possessed or traded in the sexual abuse images of children were not really dangerous to children.  It was “just pictures” or “just looking” or some other “just” excuse that I fought to counter in demanding long jail sentences for those who were quite clearly sexually interested in children, and, therefore, a danger to them.  In case we needed any more ammunition to fight against these specious claims, a recent tragic case is making headlines.  In Missouri, a ten year-old girl was snatched from a neighborhood street in front of witnesses.  The perpetrator is reportedly an elementary school coach previously unknown to the child.  While the witnesses gave police the information about the kidnapper’s car, police were unable to save the little girl’s life. Craig Michael Wood is alleged to have killed the child before police could rescue her.  The press is now reporting that child pornography, printed and in a binder, was seized from Wood’s home after police discovered the child’s body there.  Police also collected computers and other digital devices for examination.

This case shows, again, that those with a deviant sexual interest in children are dangerous.  Why on earth are we taking chances with children’s lives?  So far, there have been no reports of any previous contact between Wood and police on any child-related charges.  Most of the people I prosecuted for sexual offenses against children had no known prior such offenses.  This is, in fact, all too common.  Child predators are good at hiding their true nature from everyone:  friends, family, and co-workers.  They are teachers, police, lawyers, and coaches. They tend to have everyone fooled into thinking they are normal.  I have a haunting question in my mind about whether this tragedy could have been averted.  If investigators had more tools, more resources, and more personnel, would they have uncovered Craig Michael Wood’s penchant for child pornography before he kidnapped and killed this precious little girl?  How many children must suffer before we give law enforcement the resources they need to catch those who prey on our innocent?  http://sgfnow.co/1cykF5p

Police Save An Infant From Unspeakable Abuse

I have written here before about how the lack of resources can severely, and scandalously, limit the ability of police to act quickly to rescue child victims of sexual abuse.  A recent case in California shows just how quickly police can act when the circumstances rise to the level of urgent.  Unfortunately, this lack of resources means that not every case is treated as urgent.  In the case I mention, however, the victim was a 3 month old infant.  The predator who was sexually abusing the child sent images of this horrific abuse to an undercover detective in England.  Authorities there acted immediately in contacting US authorities.  In California, agents with the Department of Homeland Security acted the day they received the lead and rescued this poor baby.  The defendant, who is reportedly related to the child (probably his father, I am guessing) faces 15-60 years in federal prison.  I certainly hope he receives the maximum possible punishment.

This case shows that the problem of child sexual exploitation is truly global.  The efforts by law enforcement in both the UK and the US in this case were nothing short of Herculean.  It also must have required very fast action by Internet Service Providers, possibly in both countries.  If only we could act so quickly in every case where images of children are being shared we would rescue far more children from the degradation and abuse they suffer.  It has been estimated that a child is sexually abused every 10 seconds in the US.  As I write, dozens or even hundreds of children are being abused.  Many of these children will have the images of these terrible acts shared with other like-minded sexual deviants around the globe.  Recent reports indicate hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys are being enslaved through forced prostitution in many countries, including the US, which has ranked in the top 5 countries for child prostitution.  We simply must begin to prioritize the lives and innocence of our children.  

The Internet is a wondrous and monstrous tool.  It has allowed the explosion of sexual deviants and their horrific sexual appetites free reign in places all over cyberspace.  Law enforcement and prosecutors are undermanned and underfunded. Until the public truly unites and rises up to protest this lack of priority, more children like the 3 month old in California or little girls in Brazil or Atlanta will be victimized by those who prey on them.  The children are waiting for us to act.  What are we waiting for??  http://lat.ms/1bMFruH

Once a Sex Offender Always a Sex Offender

Everyone likes to say that we must protect children.   But, when will we really mean it?  How many children must be abused before we truly dedicate ourselves to eradicating the scourge?  The news today is filled with a terrible case of a global ring of sick pedophiles who used the Internet to order and watch live child sexual abuse from half a world away. (http://ab.co/1j8Z47q )  Offenders number in the hundreds and are all over the world.  This ring was discovered by UK police on a “routine” visit to the home of a convicted sex offender in England in 2012.  In a turn that should surprise no one, police discovered horrible video images of child sexual abuse on the offender’s computer.  These images lead police to the Philippines, where children were being routinely forced into sexual slavery for profit, sometimes by their own parents.  Reports indicate an organized crime group in the Philippines was responsible for supplying the children being exploited online for money.  This case appears to show good cooperation between police forces from different countries, and I applaud them for their dedication to rescuing children.  It is sad, however, that it took so long.  

Why did it take from 2012 to now to rescue children and stop the offenders?  These technology-driven cases are very complicated to investigate, especially when international borders are crossed.  They require adequate funding, training, advanced technology, and personnel.  This case shows many weaknesses in governments’ efforts to fight the sexual exploitation of children.  It also shows that the Internet industry should be doing more to protect children from those using its technology to degrade, abuse and exploit the most vulnerable.  These children were being abused live via the Internet. With hundreds of thousands of images and videos recovered in this case, some of very young children being abused, how could those whose servers and equipment were used to spread this poison not see it?  Does technology exist to capture this behavior and flag it?  With all the advances in surveillance and spying, it is hard to believe it doesn’t.  One minute, I do a Google search for a black silk blouse, and suddenly, for days, I find ads for black silk blouses on every page I visit.  Sophisticated technology exists to try and sell me things, but when it comes to selling the sexual slavery of kids, the industry suddenly has no answers.  And law enforcement?  Law enforcement is always behind the curve of technological advances. As much as government spends on other things, why can’t it invest in cutting-edge technology for this?  Why isn’t this a priority?  Politicians mouth platitudes about how important children are.  So?  Show us you mean it!

In the beginning, this case arose from a home visit to a sex offender in England. Setting aside why he wasn’t in prison, or why he was even allowed to use the Internet, why wasn’t his computer use being monitored in real-time?  This technology exists. One such product is by Securus Software, and they are in the business of monitoring, in real time, computers of sex offenders. (This company also protects children in schools.)  Where are they based?  You guessed it, England!  Reporting indicates this pedophile was chatting with sick cohorts about moving to the Philippines and becoming ring-leaders for child sexual exploitation.  One of his cohorts had collected literally millions of images of child sexual abuse, showing these two were engaged in child exploitation for a long time.  If the first offender had been monitored in real-time, perhaps this ring would have been uncovered much earlier, thereby saving some of these children at least some of their agony.

It is the same old story:  law enforcement stumbles on images of child sexual abuse (by a previously convicted and should-have-been-incarcerated sicko) and work very hard to uncover the offenders and rescue the children.  Meanwhile, the abuse, and dissemination of images of it, has been ongoing for years.  This is not law enforcement’s fault.  They are moving heaven and earth to find these children once their images are seen.  I know some of the dedicated folks at ICE, CEOP and the AFP; they desperately want to rescue children and lock up their offenders.  But, lack of resources are a scandalous handicap.  There are not nearly enough personnel, funds, and technology being dedicated to finding these children. It is a simple fact:  the bad guys are ahead of the good guys.  When you have vulnerable children in wildly impoverished countries, organized crime willing to exploit them and their caregivers, pedophiles eager to buy sick thrills, and law enforcement handicapped by a lack of funding, technology, training, and personnel, as well as legislative and international jurisdictional barriers, the result is the sexual slavery of children.

Nelson Mandela said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  Our soul must be stained today.  Unless something changes, the stain will only grow.

Why Can’t We Find Them Sooner?

An absolutely horrific case of child exploitation was reported in the news this week.  Two men were arrested in Huntsville, Alabama for the months-long sexual torture and production of images of it of a 9 year old boy.  9. Years. Old.  I can’t count the number of defense attorneys who argued to a judge when I was a federal prosecutor that “merely” participating in the trade of images of child sexual abuse didn’t mean the defendant actually abused a child.  This argument was then and is now completely specious.  This case is just one of many horrible examples of the link between child sexual abuse and the trafficking in the images of it.  These sick defendants apparently tortured this little boy for their own sexual gratification and then shared the images they took of the abuse with others of like minded depravity.  Every single person who obtains images of children being sexually abused is guilty of contributing to that sexual abuse.  This case is reportedly filled with such egregious images of abuse the investigators have been unable to review some images.  This poor little boy was abuse by his own father and seems to have a mother who is not involved in his life.  What will happen to him now?

In the title of this post, I asked why we can’t seem to find these children sooner.  If we had the proper resources, could law enforcement have rescued this little boy sooner?  There are untold numbers of children whose images of abuse are circulating on the Internet.  Law enforcement is handicapped by having scandalously scarce resources, both in technology and people, to truly make a dent in this growing scourge of the trafficking in the sick images of the abuse of children.  Many have been sounding the alarm on this for years.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reviewed more than 90 million images and videos of child sexual abuse and just over 5,000 children in those images have been identified.  This proves we are not doing enough to find those children.  I note that the article, which I’ve linked to at the bottom of this post, on this case stated that the FBI notified local authorities in Huntsville that the 9 year old boy was being abused in their district.  I applaud both the FBI and the Huntsville authorities for their action in rescuing this child.  What about the other children we know are being abused and haven’t been found?  When will these children become a priority for government resources?  I guarantee that if the decision makers had to look into the eyes of these children while they were being raped, while their eyes begged for help, they would act.   I have, unfortunately, seen many of their faces in my prosecutions of child exploitation cases.  They haunt me still.  http://bit.ly/18ASXVW  

Inspiring Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor

Many people believe that human trafficking or sex trafficking happens only to foreign women and children.  The disturbing truth is that the enslavement of US citizens is happening right here in the US.  Just before Thanksgiving, I was honored to speak at World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse.  The keynote speaker was Chong Kim, a survivor (and US citizen) of domestic sex trafficking.  Her story has become so well known that a movie has been made about her life.  The way she has coped with the horrific nature of the crimes against her is awe-inspiring.  She is a wonderful speaker full of life and good humor.  She provides lessons for all of us on survival and triumph against all odds.  I was fortunate to be able to interview her for my Leadership video series sponsored by SafePath Child Advocacy Center here in Georgia.  Chong notes that we are not having the conversations, in schools, community groups, churches and the like, we must have in order to raise awareness and protect vulnerable young people from the predators that are sex traffickers.  Chong’s story began with a young life full of abuse and neglect.  She was lost in a foster care system that couldn’t cope.  She was one of the “runaway or throwaway” youth so vulnerable to being forced into sexual slavery as a teen.  To survive, she was forced to “rank up” to a madam status in the criminal organization that beat and abused her for years, just so she could find a way toward eventual escape.  Please see my discussion with Chong at http://bit.ly/IHcl7y

Video Blog Series with Child Protection Thought Leaders

I have started a leadership video series hosted by the SafePath Child Advocacy Center in Marietta, Georgia.  In the series, I will be hosting discussions with those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in protecting children from exploitation.  I was honored to be joined last week by Sharon Girling, a retired police detective from London.  She was awarded an Officer of the British Empire, or OBE, by Queen Elizabeth for her work innovating technology to identify children depicted in images of child sexual abuse, as well as for her years of work investigating crimes against children.  Sharon has testified in courts around the globe during her time with England’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).  She is a renowned expert on child protection, and has been invited to speak all over the world on the topic.  Currently, Sharon consults with law enforcement and Industry in strategies to keep children safe both online and offline.  Sharon and I are working on several projects together, and presented together this week at the annual conference of the International Bullying Prevention Association in Nashville, Tennessee.  Our focus there was on how new technologies employed by schools can prevent an escalation of bullying and even save children’s lives when they are contemplating suicide or violence.

Please watch our video discussion in the Leadership Series on SafePath’s youtube channel here http://bit.ly/1cSwDJ7  Our discussion in this episode focuses on the effects to victims of their depiction in images of sexual abuse that are trafficked on the Internet.  It is sobering to realize that victims of child sexual abuse may be constantly re-victimized because these images, once sent online, could be traded by criminal for years or decades.  Sharon and I discuss the problem law enforcement faces in trying to locate and rescue these children, as well as the sad fact that these crimes seem to be losing their priority among some police forces because of their complex nature.  While many investigators and prosecutors work tirelessly to find these children and prosecute their abusers, this problem will never be solved through police interdiction alone.  We must focus on how technology can act as a force multiplier, how Industry must do its part to aid in this battle, and on strong prevention strategies so children don’t become victims in the first place.