Spring 2013 | Issue 15 | print friendly version | send to a friend

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

Child With Origami kids/tweens

Search & Scolding for Paper Gun

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, even a fifth grade girl bringing a paper gun to school can look like probable cause for a search and scolding.

Philadelphian Melody Valentin was already at school when she checked her pocket and found the paper gun her grandfather made for her, so she went to throw it away. Unfortunately, a classmate saw this and alerted school officials. Other students soon joined a cat-call-chorus of “murderer.”

But Valentin says kids weren’t the only ones who overreacted. School officials searched her for real weapons and, according to Valentin, one administrator told the fifth grader she could be arrested: “He yelled at me and said I shouldn't have brought the gun to school and I kept telling him it was a paper gun but he wouldn't listen."

A five-year-old in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, was deemed a “terror threat” and suspended from school for allegedly threatening to use her Hello Kitty bubble gun to shoot a classmate and herself. The family’s attorney said that “this shows how hysterical people who work at schools have become since Sandy Hook.”

And in Maryland, a first-grader who allegedly pointed his finger at a classmate and said “pow” faced suspension last month.

Read More» Money Plant

Cuomo Cuts CASA

In 1853, patrician-reformer Charles Loring Brace founded the controversial “Orphan Train” program that sent approximately 100,000 of New York City’s homeless kids to “kind, Christian homes in the country” — to work on farms scattered across the U.S.

Child welfare took a significant step forward in 1977, when Seattle judge David Soukup, frustrated with the foster care system, organized the first Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. Today, CASA has over 930 branches across the country which train volunteers to voice the needs and interests of children in court proceedings, and to help children who are struggling in foster care.

New York City’s children make up 63% of the state’s kids in foster care. Its branch receives a third of the state's financing, and serves 1,500 children each year. In 2011, 42% of CASA graduates were reunited with their parents, 15% were adopted, and 4% went on to live independently.

All of this is done with two administrators, a small team of social workers, and 120 volunteers who spend 10 to 20 hours each month helping children.

However, New York State Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget, if adopted, would eliminate CASA's annual financing of $800,000, and shutter New York City’s CASA program — a giant step backwards for the city’s child welfare system.

Read More»


Teen Bullies

It Gets Better for Bullied Gay Teens

A seven-year study of more than 4,000 teens in England, and published online in the journal Pediatrics, found that gay and bisexual teens experienced less bullying as they grew older. And surveys by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network advocacy group similarly show that, in the U.S., bullying is more common in middle schools than in high schools.

The British study, which questioned teens from 2003 through 2010, when they reached the age of 19 or 20, found that over half of the 187 gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens were bullied at the beginning of the study but, by its end, only nine percent of the boys and six percent of the girls reported being bullied.

While bullying decreased overall, gay men between 19 and 20 years old were nearly four times more likely to be bullied than straight men of the same age — which may reflect a cultural tendency to accept masculine qualities in girls more than feminine qualities in boys, according to study’s co-author Joseph Robinson of the University of Illinois.

Still, Robinson maintains that "bullying tends to decline with age regardless of sexual orientation and gender. In absolute terms, this would suggest that yes, it gets better."

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Webcam Compromise

In a second major California case, the FBI's cyber squad arrested 27-year-old Karen "Gary" Kazaryan, and charged him with 30 counts of "sextortion."

According to the indictment, Kazaryan hacked into over 350 Facebook, Skype, and email accounts from which he stole compromising photos and personal information that he used to blackmail his victims. He contacted the victims and threatened to publicly post the embarrassing photos, unless they took their clothes off and allowed him to take more sexual photos through their webcam.

Kazaryan also impersonated his victims, and contacted their friends to extort sexual photos and video from them as well.

If convicted, Kazaryan faces 105 years in jail.

Read more»

The FBI recommends taking these precautions to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion:

  • Don't rely solely on anti-virus software to protect your computer
  • Cover webcams unless you are using them
  • Don't open unexpected attachments from anyone (including your friends)
  • Be suspicious of unusual online activity
  • Talk to your parents or call the police if you've been hacked
Read More»

Creeps Can Tweet, Too

Since federal courts started overturning state laws that banned sex offenders from social networks, free speech and web safety advocates are wrestling over whether Twitter should amend its terms of service (TOS) to bar sex offenders from logging on.

Facebook already disallows these offenders from accessing the site in its TOS, since the court rulings only affect state laws (not policies of private companies or online services). However, if Facebook is any example, don’t expect Twitter to make this move without some arm-twisting. It was then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who pressured Facebook to modify its TOS, which now baldly states: "You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender."

So, what’s to prevent sex offenders from violating such terms? The threat of federal prosecution could do the trick: the feds have been prosecuting violators of a website’s TOS under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), though there are bills introduced in Congress to modify CFAA.

Advocates of greater Internet free speech rights, however, see prosecuting sex offenders for violating a private company’s TOS as an end-run around the court rulings finding the sex-offender Internet ban unconstitutional.

Although neither the law nor Twitter have settled on the proper Internet safety/free speech balance, we'll keep you posted on further developments.

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elders and vulnerable adults

Attorney Swipes Client’s Inheritance

A California attorney has been disbarred and is facing criminal charges after admitting she stole $275,000 from her 80-year-old client Grover Gordon, Jr.

Attorney Sydney Claire Kirkland was a co-trustee of Gordon’s estate. When Gordon inherited $285,730 from his longtime friend and housemate, Kirkland put the money into a client trust account. Over the next 11 months, she siphoned $275,642 from the account, then tried to cover up the theft with a trail of lies and fake bank statements.

A bank manager reported suspected financial abuse to Adult Protective Services, and Gordon hired another attorney to remove Kirkland as a co-trustee. Even after she was removed as co-trustee, Kirkland continued to drain all but $10,000 from the trust account, using $23,000 to buy an Audi, and transferring money to her husband and others.

Read More»

2012 Insurance Hall of Shamers

Vulnerable adults were victimized in these 2012 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame stories selected by the watch-dog group, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud:

Medicare Application

Houser’s Horrors: A Georgia man named George Houser received $32 million in false Medicare and Medicaid payments by running nursing homes of horror where malnourished, low-income seniors lived among garbage, filth, and rodents. He spent the money on his homes, cars, and vacations, but now he's spending the next 20 years in federal prison.

Read More»

Hand Player: In South Carolina, David Player and his accomplice convinced a severely mentally handicapped man, named Michael "Porky" Weaver, to let them cut off his hand with a trimmer and a chainsaw blade. Mr. Player, who had a power of attorney over Mr. Weaver's finances, collected $671,000 in insurance money, most of which he used to buy luxury items, build an auto repair shop, and pay for his divorce. During divorce proceedings, Mr. Player's wife found evidence of the fraud, which she reported to the FBI. Mr. Player received a 14 year federal prison term, and his accomplice received three years and five months. Mr. Weaver, who now wears a hook, was not prosecuted due to his mental disability.

Read More»

legal outlook

Legislative Updates

Washington, D.C.

As we discussed in one of our Blog posts, President Obama recently signed into law the Protect Our Kids Act of 2012, which authorizes a Commission to study deaths caused by child abuse and neglect. "The key to child abuse prevention in general ... is awareness and then it's education. And, people need to be aware that this is a problem," says Christal Wilcox Frost of Traverse Bay Area Child Advocacy.

Read more»


Tougher Laws & More Reporting

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) says reports of suspected child abuse have spiked by about 500 additional calls a month, since Florida enacted some of the strictest child-abuse laws in the country. DCF's regional spokesman, John Harrell, says the public's help is crucial in uncovering child abuse: "Now we have one of the toughest laws in the country on this. It is dependent on the public to report it. There is no way we can find out about it if it is not reported."

The stringent new laws were spurred in part by the Penn State scandal. Anyone who suspects child abuse but fails to report it to DCF or the police, now faces a felony charge instead of a misdemeanor.

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Court Decisions

As previously noted in "Creeps Can Tweet, Too," federal courts have been grappling with the issue of online predators:


A U.S. District Court judge ruled that a Nebraska state sex-offender law was too broad and violated free-speech rights. The law prohibited registered sex offenders from using social networking sites and chat rooms, and forced them to disclose their Internet behavior and consent to computer monitoring.

Read more»


The federal Court of Appeals also overturned an Indiana law that barred sex offenders from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The court ruled that the Indiana law violated First Amendment rights because it was too broad, and did not specifically target "the evil of improper communications to minors."

Read more»

course catalog

Adult Courses

Protect Children

Detecting Predators

Protect Vulnerable Adults

Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

Don't Fall For Scams

Visiting Vulnerable Adults

Volunteer Anti-harassment & Diversity

Inquiry v. Investigation

Eliminate Bullying

Cyberspace: Risks and Solutions

Adults in Pastoral Relationships

Adult Member Comments

"I've been a cop for 23 years. I've participated in investigations that resulted in predators going to prison for essentially the rest of their lives. I've participated in investigations that resulted in the arrest of teachers and school admin staff that used the internet to build relationships with students they molested. As online training goes, your stuff seems top notch to me." C.T.

"I am a social worker and did my graduate school thesis on child abuse. This course was done very thoroughly and clearly." P.K. "

"I can tell some long hours and meaningful work went into the preparation of this program. I am a critical care nurse and have been involved in reporting some abuse cases in the past, but there was a lot of information in this I did not know." E.F.

"This was fabulous ... I have worked in public education for 23 years and this was the BEST approach for learning about keeping children safe. I would recommend this program to the public school system for all professionals and volunteers." K.L.

Student Courses

Safety Smarts for Kids (Grade 4)

Block The Bully (Grade 5)

Be Safe, Stay Safe (Grade 6)

Bullying, Not Cool (Grade 7)

Digital Citizenship (Grade 8)

Teen Safety (Grade 9)

Dating Abuse (Grade 10)

CyberSafety (Grade 11)

You're Legal, What Now? (Grade 12)

Student Member Comments

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

"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!"

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

Digital Citizenship (Grade 8)

Consider these statistics:

  • Teens spend an average of one and a half hours each day going to social networking sites, playing computer games, and watching videos.
  • 95% of youth between ages 12-17 are online, and most of them are multi-tasking — many are adept at chatting, texting, posting, and watching videos while doing homework.
  • Two-thirds of 8– to 18-year-olds have cell phones, and they send an average of 118 text messages a day.

Online behavior has offline consequences that follow young people through their lives. This course teaches children who are becoming teens how to protect privacy, treat each other with respect, and use critical thinking to make good decisions in the digital world.

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.



» Search & Scolding for Paper Gun
» Cuomo Cuts CASA


» It Gets Better for Bullied Gay Teens


» Webcam Compromise
» Creeps Can Tweet, Too


» Attorney Swipes Client’s Inheritance

» 2012 Insurance Hall of Shamers


» Legislative Updates

» Court Decisions

quiz corner Blog Know the numbers
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
  • Baby boomers (55 to 64 years old) comprise the highest percentage of these caregivers (33%)
  • 29% of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s or other dementias live alone — 11.3 million people.

For more information, read 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures by clicking here.