January 2011 | Issue 5 | print friendly version | send to a friend

The Safe Haven updates you every month on safety issues confronting communities, including child abuse, cyberbullying, financial elder abuse, and more. Through awareness and education, we can work together to help the vulnerable—kids, tweens, teens, and elders—stay safe.

kids/tweens

Facebook Posting Exposes Predator

After Kevin Ricks was arrested, a four-month Washington Post investigation revealed his novellaesque double life as an international child predator, masquerading as a caring teacher and mentor. Ricks evaded the law for 30 years, moving from one school district to another, hosting a number of foreign exchange students. His wife called him “an actor and master manipulator.” It wasn’t until someone reported his explicit messages to a victim on Facebook that police searched Ricks’s home and found stacks of meticulously detailed journals with videos and photographic evidence of child abuse. Highlighting the importance of reporting,"school officials and foreign exchange companies knew of or suspected Ricks's inappropriate behavior and simply let him go, leaving the next employer with no idea what was coming.”

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Religious Ritual or Child Abuse?

Gay exorcisms are performed as a religious ritual to "cleanse and bind demonic powers” by forcefully pressing upon a person’s body parts until a demon is purged through the orifices. When performed on minors, it could be child abuse. Exorcism performed on a child, “is a very, very damaging concept," says a gay Christian who underwent routine exorcisms , and one Atlanta preacher calls the practice “dangerous.” Government agencies are reluctant to interfere in any religious ritual, but the First Amendment may not protect exorcisms if they cause harm to children since courts have found parents criminally negligent when they withhold life-saving medical treatments from their children for religious reasons.

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“Kidnapped” Kindergartner Returned Safely

In a case of mistaken identity, a man inadvertently picked up the wrong kindergartner who willingly left school with the stranger. When the parents of the child arrived, school officials realized their mistake. It was the second day of school and teachers still hadn’t gotten to know the parents of every student. While a police spokesperson noted that an apparent “lack of judgment” occurred, the incident didn’t reflect “any systemic weaknesses in the district's procedures.” The child was returned to his parents safely when he was found within two miles of the school. The man was arrested on minor unrelated charges.

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teens

School Changes Outdated Race Policy

A Mississippi middle school changed its school-government policy when its race specifications were criticized as being racist and segregationist. The policy listed which races (black or white) could run for which positions, with the presidents of all three grades mandated to be white. Two parents of children with mixed-race heritage complained and asked which race their students fall under. They were reportedly told to "go by the mother's race because with minorities the father isn't generally in the home." The school has since reversed its policy, stating that it was a rotational rule put into place 30 years ago to ensure diversity. The school still has separate categories for black and white kings and queens for the homecoming court.

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Suicidal Teens Become Aggressive Adults

Psychological Medicine reported that 58% of teenage boys who attempt suicide become violent adults in romantic relationships, compared to 23% who do not attempt suicide and become aggressive partners. The researchers controlled for other possible factors such as aggression, depression, substance use, and family abuse history, but the correlation to attempted suicide held. Stressing prevention and treatment of aggressive behavior, if those men who are more prone to become violent understand “the importance of controlling anger and impulsive reactions when under stress, they may become more aware that they are at risk and take the responsibility for learning how to avoid this."

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e-safety

Geotagging Causes Security Concerns

When using your smartphone to snap a photo or broadcast your location on FourSquare, a “geotagging” feature is activated that may raise security concerns. These features appear harmless, but come with hidden dangers. Geotagging documents the coordinates of your location when you “check-in” or take photos with your smart phone. This can aid predators or increase theft, so check the default settings on your device and adjust privacy settings to meet your security concerns. Alternatively, remove geotags with a metadata removal tool before uploading photos.

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Report Tracks Increase in Extremist and Hate-Filled Sites

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has tracked the growth of online hatemongering sites since 1995, and reports that the advent of social networking sites has significantly increased the number of these sites. In its 2009 report, the Digital Hate and Terrorism project identified some 10,000 sites that spread hateful content via platforms such as message boards or games. Even mainstream sites like YouTube and Facebook are littered with extremist messages. Facebook and SWC are working together, and YouTube has partnered with the Anti-Defamation League, to delete hateful content.

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elders

TLC Covers Up Elder Abuse

TLC operated as a private residence that provided care to those who can no longer take care of themselves (called an “adult family home”), which is not subject to the same regulations as a nursing home, but is covered by Washington’s law that requires immediate reporting of elder abuse. After removing the evidence and waiting five days, TLC reported burn injuries that left a 68 year-old patient’s face permanently disfigured. The staff and TLC’s owner denied that she was given a lit cigarette while hooked up to an oxygen tank, but a suspicious police detective found the melted wheelchair, damaged oxygen tank and burned clothes that proved otherwise. While adult family homes covered up at least 357 cases of abuse or neglect during the previous five years—many resulting in serious injury or death—TLC’s owner was the first person convicted of failure to report elder abuse in Washington. She served 30 days in jail and was forced to close TLC, but kept her license to operate two other adult family homes where TLC’s patients were moved.

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High Priced Torture at Retirement Home

Do you always get your money’s worth? Apparently not. A 21-year old caregiver at an upscale Calabasas retirement home faces life in prison after being found guilty on eight counts of torture and elder abuse. Co-workers testified that Ulloa laughed as he launched off a dresser and landed, knees-first, onto an elderly man’s abdomen. He also body-slammed an old woman onto her bed to keep her from struggling. The investigation began with an anonymous tip, informing the widow of a former patient that her husband was abused and may not have died of natural causes. His body was exhumed and an autopsy showed blunt force trauma contributed to his death, as well as two dozen breaks around Elmore Kittower's ribs which a radiologist compared to those of a person hit by a train. Mr. Kittower’s 86 year-old widow sobbed throughout the proceedings.

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legal lookout

“E-personation” A Crime in California

As of January 1, 2011, it’s a crime in California to impersonate someone on a website, or by other electronic means (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media), in order to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud another person. The impersonator faces a $1,000 fine and one year in jail, in addition to civil liability. Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, took up the cause when both he and his brother were targeted by impersonators. Another high profile case involved a Missouri mom who set up a MySpace account, impersonating a teenage boy in order to strike up an internet romance with her daughter’s 13 year-old nemesis, who committed suicide after receiving a message from the impersonator that the world would be a better place without her. To address First Amendment concerns, California’s law has a “parody exception” for impersonating someone who is not “real” or “credible,” so you can still impersonate Santa Claus or Abe Lincoln without risk of prosecution. Still, there will likely be Constitutional challenges to the law.

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New Laws Allow Life Sentences

Chelsea’s Law (AB 1844), signed into law on September 9, 2010, allows life sentences without parole for first-time offenders who use force while committing a sex crime against a child, increases parole terms for those who target children (including the possibility of lifetime parole with GPS monitoring), restricts sex offenders from entering parks, requires posting of sex offenders’ risk assessment on Megan’s Law website, and allows continued detention of offenders with mental disorders. Adam’s Law (AB 1280), also signed in September 2010, imposes harsher punishment for child abuse by allowing life sentences (with the possibility of parole) for a caregiver who assaults a child under age 8 and causes permanent paralysis or coma from brain injury.

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California Gets Tough on Truancy

Chronic absences by elementary school students account for nearly 40% of all truancy in California. Elementary school truancy is strongly correlated to juvenile delinquency, high school dropout rates, and increased rates of poverty and incarceration among adults. A recent study concluded that decreasing truancy and increasing graduation rates would significantly decrease violent crime. A new California law makes it a misdemeanor for parents to allow their elementary students to be chronically truant. Instead of paying criminal fines and serving jail time, parents may elect family services and court supervision. A similar law reduced elementary school truancy in San Francisco by one-third.

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A Shared Responsibility

Shield the Vulnerable is dedicated to raising awareness of abuse and neglect, and providing training and resources to help protect the most vulnerable members of our communities.

IN THIS ISSUE

KIDS/TWEENS

-Facebook Posting Exposes Predator
-Religious Ritual or Child Abuse?

-“Kidnapped” Kindergartner Returned Safely

TEENS

- School Changes Outdated Race Policy

- Suicidal Teens Become Aggressive Adults

e-SAFETY

- Geotagging Causes Security Concerns
- Report Tracks Increase in Extremist and Hate-Filled Sites

ELDERS

- TLC Covers Up Elder Abuse
- High Priced Torture at Retirement Home

LEGAL LOOKOUT

- “E-personation” A Crime in California
- New Laws Allow Life Sentences

- California Gets Tough on Truancy

quiz corner Know the numbers on child abduction in the US
  • 50 percent of all child kidnappings are by family members
  • 80 percent of acquaintance and stranger kidnappings are sexually motivated
  • 70 percent of stranger kidnappings happen in outdoor areas like parks and playgrounds

To read more facts about child abduction, visit the Polly Klaas Foundation's website:

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