Spring 2012 | Issue 12 | print friendly version | send to a friend

The Safe Haven updates you quarterly 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.


Blood-Disease May Mimic Child Abuse

When a six-month-old girl, Isis Vas, died in a Texas hospital in 2000 with apparent bruises all over her body, Ernie Lopez was sentenced to 60 years in prison for sexual assault. Lopez had been babysitting Isis when she collapsed, and called 911. However, the autopsy, which found that Isis died as a result of abuse, is now facing serious scrutiny. Lopez spent nine years in jail before a judge tossed the 2003 conviction for “deficient representation.”

The former defense attorney failed to call medical experts to testify that Isis had a blood disorder mimicking the signs of child abuse – including blood clotting that looks like bruises.

Tearfully reuniting with his children, family and friends, Lopez called his recent homecoming from prison a “rebirth.” Still, Lopez’s battle isn’t over – prosecutors intend to re-try him in the Fall. Lopez’s new attorney says that although he’s “feeling pretty good” about the case, “the state of Texas is, too ... So it’s going to be an old-fashioned, knockdown, drag-out.”

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Abuse Allegations Shutter School

CVS film processors reporting suspected child abuse led to criminal charges of child molestation, as well as the shut-down and complete re-staffing of Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A.

Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt is charged with 23 counts of felony child molestation for binding, blindfolding, and spoon-feeding his semen to at least 23 children ages 6 to 10 during an after-school program between 2008 and 2010. He took about 390 photos of his victims. The sheriff began investigating Berndt when 40 of the photos were first turned over by CVS film processors, who are legally mandated to report their suspicions of child abuse. Another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, was later charged on three counts of lewd acts for fondling a girl under age 14 in a classroom.

When the school system allowed Berndt to resign with full pension benefits instead of firing him, outraged parents protested, and one victim’s parents are suing the district alleging a “massive cover-up.” Springer was released on $300,000 bail and ordered to wear a GPS tracking device and stay away from witnesses, parks, schools, and playgrounds. Berndt remains in jail on $23 million bail, which a judge refused to reduce in March.

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Teen Pregnancy Hits Record Low

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that teen (ages 15-19) births have dropped to the lowest point since record-keeping began in 1940. The CDC attributes the decline to the economy, pregnancy-prevention messages, and increased use of contraception.

Mississippi has the highest teen birthrate in the U.S. and New Hampshire has the lowest. "In spite of these declines, the U.S. teen birth rate remains one of the highest among other industrialized countries," according to the CDC.

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Sex Abuse Leads to Unsafe Sex

A first-of-its-kind study found that sexually abused boys are five times more likely to cause teen pregnancy, three times more likely to have multiple sex partners, and twice as likely to have unprotected sex. Over 40,000 male high school students were surveyed between 1986-2011 in British Columbia and the U.S. An average of 8% of males and 20% of females in North America report a history of sexual abuse.

The lead author of the study, Yuko Homma, warns that "Parents need to speak to their sons about sexual abuse awareness and prevention, as parents of girls do." The researchers also recommend that sex abuse prevention be included in health education.

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Facebook Enemies

The gloves are off – a new Facebook app called "EnemyGraph" now allows users to declare enemies on the world's most popular social network. The app was developed at the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas. Harrison Massey, one of the students who worked on the project, explained the motivation behind EnemyGraph. "Facebook has this artificial positivity kind of forced upon it," said Massey. "We believe that there is a certain amount of health in saying that you don't like something … You can bond with people over that."

How it works: you choose "enemies" from your existing friends list, or choose public figures or companies with Facebook pages, or other users of EnemyGraph. Who is the most popular enemy so far? Justin Bieber, according to Massey, but other "Trending Enemies" include George W. Bush and racism.

The UT professor on the project, Dean Terry, says "We are misusing the word 'enemy' the same way that Facebook misuses the word 'friend' … It's not about individuals. It's really about things in popular culture."

What do the developers expect from the project? "We wanted to see what people would do if given a chance to have such an outlet," and "to get people talking about these issues," according to UT graduate student Bradley Griffith. With 20,000 users and counting in less than two months since its release, Griffith proclaimed "I think the app has served its purposes there."

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Kidney = iPhone & iPad

IIn China, only about 10,000 of the 1.5 million people who need organ transplants get them. So, when brokers went looking for donors in an online chat room, a 17-year-old's consumerism got the best of him and he agreed to sell one of his kidneys for $3,500 – enough to buy an iPhone and an iPad.

When the boy came home and his mother asked him how he could afford these high-priced status symbols, he told her that he sold one of his kidneys. Five people have now been charged, including a surgeon, a hospital contractor, and brokers who looked for donors online and leased an operating room.

"In the choice between their bodies and materialism, they resolutely chose the latter," said an editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily, "… blindly competing with others in the pursuit of high-end 'technology' will gradually ruin lives."

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Police Chief Failed to Report

On January 31, 2012, police chief Robert Yerbey visited 77-year-old Wilton Goudeaux's home to investigate an alleged domestic dispute. Yerbey reported that Goudeaux was fine and had just finished showering.


Four hours later, a Department of Human Services investigator arrived at Mr. Goudeaux's home and found him unresponsive and breathing hard, so he was taken to the hospital. Dr. Sherita Willis told police that Mr. Goudeaux was "extremely dirty, filthy and appeared to be malnourished," and was the victim of neglect and possible physical abuse.

Mr. Goudeaux died less than a month later, and his son, the son's girlfriend, and Mr. Goudeaux's caregiver were arrested on elder abuse charges. Police chief Yerbey was charged with failure to report elder abuse. Yerbey also faces a felony endangerment charge because he notarized a power of attorney for Goudeaux's son, after which the younger Goudeaux traded his father's $6,000 trailer to Yerbey in exchange for an "older model" golf cart.

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Should Prisoners "Retire"?

Johnson Van Dyke Grigsby holds the dubious distinction of being the longest-serving prisoner in American history – he spent 66 years in prison from 1908 to 1974. William Heirens nearly beat that record, but the so-called "Lipstick Killer" recently died in prison at age 83 just months before beating the 66-year record for being locked up. Heirens earned his nickname by writing in lipstick on the wall of one of his victim's apartment "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more."

According to Human Rights Watch, the number of U.S. prisoners over age 65 increased by 63 percent from 2007 to 2010. In Louisiana, the cost of caring for aging inmates has grown to $80,000 per year per inmate. This includes all of their health care costs, since inmates do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.

This growing population of elders behind bars prompted Louisiana to pass a law, giving non-violent prisoners age 60 and older the possibility of parole, so long as they are not sex offenders and have served at least 10 years of their prison term. In effect, senior criminals in Louisiana are given the possibility of "retiring" from prison when their health care costs surpass their ability to pose a threat to society.

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legal lookout

Legislative Updates

Oregon updated its mandatory reporter list and now requires school employees to report child abuse by other students.

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Nebraska is now the 14th state to make negligent child abuse a felony if anyone’s reckless acts result in serious injury or death.

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Government students of Wesleyan College in West Virginia drafted SB 161 as a class project, followed its progress through the legislature, and attended the signing ceremony with Governor Tomblin at the state capitol on April 5. This law adds new categories to the list of professionals mandated to report child abuse, and requires anyone over the age of 18 to report child sexual abuse to the police within 48 hours.

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Iowa’s governor recently signed SF 2225 into law, which prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting child abuse, and provides for the review of training resources for mandatory reporters.

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Indiana’s SB 267 provides for the state to develop child abuse education programs and reporting policies for schools.

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Washington’s governor signed a bill into law that adds to the list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and makes failure to report a gross misdemeanor.

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South Dakota has now added professional categories to the list of mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.

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The Virginia governor has signed three child-abuse-related bills into law:

1. Chapter 728 decreases the child abuse reporting deadline, and increases the fines for failing to report.

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2. Chapter 391 updates the list of mandatory reporters to include coaches and others involved in youth sports.

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3. Chapter 698 adds employees of higher education institutions to the list of mandatory reporters.

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Adult Courses

Recognize & Report Child Abuse

Recognize & Report Mistreatment of Vulnerable Adults

Recognize & Report Elder Financial Abuse

Volunteer Diversity: Skills for Collaboration

Inquiry v. Investigation

Eliminating Bullying


Cyberspace: Risks and Solutions

Detecting Predators

Sexual Exploitation of Adults

Pastoral Services - Visiting Vulnerable Adults

Adult Member Comments

“I have a degree in social work and have worked within the social services field, mainly in domestic violence cases, for about 15 years. I have always wondered about the training provided to coaches and I am walking away knowing that they are offered an appropriate training when it comes to working with kids.”

"I liked taking the class on line rather than going to a workshop. The on line course used concrete examples, facts were straight forward and it kept my attention more than listening to someone speak. It was a good course."

“I was surprised at the level of intelligence, clarity and sensitivity of this training. The quiz sections were very helpful in the training.”

"I have been through several trainings on this subject from previous schools and jobs. This one was the best. To the point, lots of good info."

Student Courses

Teen Safety Overview

You're Legal, What Now?

Bullying, Not Cool

Be Safe, Stay Safe

Block the Bully

Cyber Safety

Dating Abuse

Safety Smarts for Kids

Student Member Comments

“I thought it was a great video and I learned a lot from it!”

"I think that this taught me a lot of things about bullying! It helped me SO much!"

“This was a good course for people who are or will get bullied. Good job!”

"Was good to see the real life examples"

"I really enjoyed doing this course because of the real-world example"

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.



- Blood-Disease May Mimic Child Abuse
- Abuse Allegations Shutter School


- Teen Pregnancy Hits Record Low

- Sex Abuse Leads to Unsafe Sex


- Facebook Enemies
- Kidney = iPhone & iPad


- Police Chief Failed to Report

- Should Prisoners “Retire”?


- Legislative Updates

quiz corner Know the numbers on the reproductive rights of minors in the US
  • 21 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow all minors to consent to contraceptive services.
  • 28 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow all minors to consent to prenatal care.
  • 37 states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.

To read more facts on the reproductive rights of minors, visit the Guttmacher Institute website:

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