The Boy Scout “Perversion Files”

June 1, 2014

In October of 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Boy Scouts of America to release confidential files the organization had kept for years. These files, known as “the Perversion Files”, contain records of Boy Scout volunteers who had been subject to allegations of sexual abuse and records of what the Boy Scout organization did in response to discovering the allegations. The files may have been complied from as early as the 1920’s.

Since then, these files have been searchable online, including names of perpetrators. As pointed out in a New York Times editorial of October 19, 2012, the Boy Scouts have defended keeping the files confidential arguing that the privacy allowed them to be subject a a system of internal controls which helped prevent attempts by the alleged perpetrators to rejoin scouting.

However, the result of this secrecy is a failure to report the allegations to law enforcement and protection for the abusers from criminal punishment for their behavior. The Boy Scots failed to report many allegations to the public as well.

A number of the files also detail situations in which the Boy Scouts terminated volunteers subject to allegations, and thereafter the volunteers rejoining and reoffending within the organization.

The release order began with a civil lawsuit in Oregon Superior Court by six victims of sexual abuse which resulted in a punitive damages award of 18.5 million against the Boy Scout organization. The law firm that won the civil lawsuit appealed all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court on the issue of release of the files, winning a release order from the Supreme Court.

At the time of the release, the Boy Scouts issued an apology for their part in failing to protect the children from abusers. Additionally, they pointed out that by 2012, the police were involved in 63% of cases.

For more information, see this Washington Post article regarding the 2012 release of the files: Boy scout “perversion files” released, The Washington Post, by Paul Duggan, October 18, 2012.

Harvard study pinpoints neurons that control parenting behaviors

May 17, 2014

Professor Catherine Dulac and her team have recently completed a study published in the journal Nature which identified neurons in the brain that affect grooming and protective behavior in parents versus neglectful and abusive behaviors.

Using mice and applying genetic tools, the researchers activated galanin neurons in virgin male mice. The results were striking. Once the neurons were activated, the males began to groom the pups instead of attacking them. Further tests, which killed the galanin neurons, resulted in parents who either ignored their pups altogether or attacked them.

While this study did not directly apply these findings to humans, Dulac stated that she would be surprised if these neurons did not exist in humans.

In light of the fact that neuronal connections in the brain are primarily formed during fetal life and in the first three years, these findings add an important piece of the puzzle comprising our deeper understanding of the way in which parenting patterns are passed down through the generations.

Here is a link to the abstract and study: Galanin neurons in the medial preoptic area govern parental behaviour

Mom charged with murder for allegedly starving her 21-pound 13-year-old son

May 2, 2014

In my work, I frequently hear true stories of horrible mistreatment of children by their own parents. I avoid writing about them in this column on a regular basis because I’m not interested in engaging in sensationalism and because they are so pervasive, you would hear nothing else. Every day I could write about multiple terrible occurrences that would make my readers feel ill.

Yet somehow, reading about the one I am about to describe made me decide that I need to share it.

A 35-year-old mother in North Dakota has been charged with murder for starving her own son to death. The boy was found dead at age 13 weighing 21 pounds.

While the mother, Jessica Jensen, has pled not guilty to the charges of murder, neglect or abuse of a child, and failure to report the death of a child; the Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and found the cause of death to be chronic starvation, and the manner of death to be homicide.

The mother claims that her son had an untreated medical condition that caused his starvation and death. However, the facts provided by the investigator seem to belie the mother’s claimed defenses.

The boy had not been to the doctor in several years. Detective Laura Forbes testified that the mother admitted to locking the boy in his bedroom at times and that the investigator observed that both windows in this bedroom were covered in black plastic and boarded up with plywood. She also testified that the room was filled with trash, smelled of feces and urine, and had food spatters all over the walls.

Additionally, evidence showed that Jensen has homeschooled her children since 2009. However, few educational materials were found in the home – only enough books to fill one grocery bag.

There was also plenty of food in the house and no appearance that the family was low on money. Jessica Jensen’s mother testified that Jessica told her she was “at ease” once the boy died.

The criminal case is ongoing, and a pretrial conference is scheduled for September.

Here is an ABC News article on the story: Mom to Stand Trial in Death of 21 Pound Teen

Take it from an expert: family court reform is long overdue

April 13, 2014

An experienced attorney with a specialty in child custody matters, a former Harvard Professor, and Associate Editor of the Journal of Child Custody, Toby Kleinman has recently written a poignant article in the Trauma Psychology newsletter of the American Psychological Association about the procedures of family courts and their inadequate approaches to child abuse issues.

Kleinman persuasively makes the point that family court procedures fudge with respect to evidence and lack the application of real science, and that instead judges untrained in the recent studies regarding child abuse make decisions concerning the safety of children. It turns out, as Kleinman explains, that these decisions frequently place vulnerable children in harm’s way.

Why are family courts so lax when it comes to rules of evidence, why are they so lacking in procedures that permit the introduction of real science, why are judges deciding personal matters based on feelings, impressions, and inflammatory “declarations” made by angry parties which are full of inadmissible speculative allegations? As Kleinman points out, criminal courts don’t function this way in the United States. Why the family courts?

In family court, many preliminary decisions are made by judges without trial, and paid “custody evaluators” with strong recommending power often make evaluations with the understanding that allegations of abuse are somehow caused by coaching by the protective parent with the intent to gain an upper hand in custody matters. In fact, Kleinman points out, statistics belie this widespread belief, and children rarely claim abuse falsely.

Family court reform is sorely needed – throughout the United States, and in fact throughout the world.

This article, Family Courts Must Demand Science, by Toby G. Kleinman, Esq., is published in the American Psychological Association, Division 56, Trauma Psychology Newsletter, Spring 2014 issue and will soon be available online.

The impact of neglect

March 26, 2014

Neglect can be as impactful (if not more so) on the brain and body of the developing child as physical abuse. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has published a brief on this issue as well as a video illustrating that impact.

You can find the brief at this link: In Brief: The Science of Neglect and the video at this link: In Brief: The Science of Neglect, Video.

Research shows that caregiver absence and/or unresponsiveness during a child’s early years can lead to cognitive delays, disruption of the body’s stress response systems, and impairment in executive functioning. Such deprivation in the earliest most formative stages of the child’s development can also cause impairment in health, behavior, and learning.

Attachment¬†to one’s primary caregiver during the first months is a critical foundation on which a human being’s brain architecture is formed and creates the ability to form healthy relationships throughout life. This attachment includes a sensitively attuned responsiveness by the caregiver. The Harvard team’s brief creates a chart describing differing levels of neglect and their effects, distinguishing between chronic under-stimulation and severe neglect.

I would suggest many people in the general population are unaware of the degree to which neglect can impact human behavior, cognition, and even physical health.

The Pope defends Catholic church over sexual abuse allegations

March 11, 2014

It appears that Pope Francis is angry. He seems to be frustrated with the UN Committee’s investigation and inquiry into the Catholic Church’s history with regard to child sexual abuse and related coverups.

According to the Pope, “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has acted with transparency and responsibility” on this issue. “No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”

The recent UN report arising out of this inquiry by the Committee on the Rights of the Child implored the Pope to immediately root out and remove priests who are known or suspected child abusers. The Committee received no response.

The leader of an Italian group representing victims of clergy based sexual abuse indicated that there have been few real changes under Pope Francis with regard to the Church’s response to sexual abuse. In fact, he indicates that sexual abuse by priests continues in Italy.

After all I have read and heard about Pope Francis and his widespread reputation as a humanitarian and all I have learned about the Church’s record on child sexual abuse, I, for one, am deeply disappointed.

Childhood trauma linked to development of psychosis

February 20, 2014

For many years, the general belief in the medical and mental health community has been that psychosis is physically and genetically based and that the environment has no impact on its development.

In recent years, studies are showing that environmental trauma and adversity in the early years is connected with psychosis.

A paper just published in the journal Neuropsychiatry just strengthened support for this link. Four researchers (including Dr. Bruce Perry) performed a search for relevant papers published since 2001, finding 125. They then reviewed those articles, which support the “traumagenic neurodevelopmental model” of psychosis, specifically the concept that brain changes caused by trauma parallel brain patterns present in patients diagnosed with psychosis.

The paper presents an overview of the brain changes that are important in detail, as well as a list of important points to come out of this survey.

This paper is available for free online: The traumagenic neurodevelopmental model of psychosis revisited, John Read, Roar Fosse, Andrew Moskowitz, Bruce Perry, Neuropsychiatry, Feb 2014.

The news about Woody Allen

February 4, 2014

Dylan Farrow spoke. My friend told me about it on Sunday.

If you haven’t already, please read this Open Letter from Dylan Farrow and consider how it feels to be a child who has to keep a terrible secret, which you yourself don’t understand.

Consider the nature of celebrity and what it means when we turn a blind eye merely because someone is rich and famous.

Consider how wrong and perverse it is to take advantage of a child’s innocence and scar a human being forever.

Consider why someone would abuse.

Pope Francis must answer to U.N. on child sexual abuse

January 16, 2014

While Pope Francis is a highly regarded leader, having established a reputation as a genuine humanitarian and having even been selected as Time magazine’s person of the year for 2013, as head of the Catholic church, he will have to answer questions regarding the Vatican’s record on child sexual abuse.

A U.N. committee formed by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is conducting the investigation of the Catholic church, which is intended to conclude today.

The Committee is expected to issue its final analysis and recommendations on February 5.

Pope Francis has implemented several improvements since his leadership began. These include criminalizing sexual violence against children, directing the church’s enforcement arm, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to act more decisively on abuse cases, and establishing an internal commission on sexual abuse by priests the focus of which is intended to be emotional support for victims.

However, a number of victim’s groups, while holding out hope for improvements, believe the steps are too little too late.

For more details on this subject, please see this Time Magazine article: Pope Francis’ Vatican to be Grilled by U.N. on Child Sex Abuse.

Appellate court frees Catholic official jailed for coverup of child abuse

December 29, 2013

On Thursday, a three-judge appeals panel freed Monsignor William Lynn, the only cleric jailed for shielding child sexual abusers in recent years. The appeals court reversed his conviction finding that the child endangerment law under which he was convicted applies only to parents and direct caregivers, not to those in administrative or supervisory roles.

Lynn was overseeing the clergy and fielding child abuse complaints for the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 2004. He was convicted for keeping complaints private and reassigning priests to different parishes rather than reporting them, punishing them, and/or keeping them from contact with children.

Church reform and child protection advocates were shocked and saddened by the decision, many issuing statements of disappointment. “We’re heartsick,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests. “We felt that this conviction sent a very strong message that if you protect predators, you would be punished. We hoped it would cause other prosecutors to go after other people protecting pedophiles. We thought it was a trend, a start.”

In light of the recent ruling, there appears to be a deficiency in the legal structure. As a practical matter, coverup is critical in allowing abuse to happen and continue. As a society, by legally permitting abuse to go on, we are indirectly sending a message that we sanction the behaviors.

I suggest that this is wrong. I suggest that we need stronger child protection laws, that we should recognize the damaging nature of child abuse to individuals and to society, and that we should take a stand against it. By permitting those who knowingly shield abusers to go free, by failing to have effective laws on the books that would proscribe such conduct, we are not only failing to protect our innocents, we are also failing our own selves.

You can find more information on this topic in this article: Monsignor William Lynn Conviction Reversed, Raising Questions About Justice System, Huffington Post, Jan. 27, 2013.