all things social work

I Don’t Own My Child’s Body

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Wed June 20, 2012

(CNN) — My daughter occasionally goes on a hugging and kissing strike.

She’s 4. Her parents could get a hug or a kiss, but many people who know her cannot, at least right now. And I won’t make her.

“I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won’t make you do it,” I told her recently.

“I don’t have to?” she asked, cuddling up to me at bedtime, confirming the facts to be sure.

No, she doesn’t have to. And just to be clear, there is no passive-aggressive, conditional, manipulative nonsense behind my statement. I mean what I say. She doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me. I will not override my own child’s currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch.

I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.

It doesn’t belong to her parents, preschool teacher, dance teacher or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn’t have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.

The trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of sexually abusing young boys, has only strengthened my resolve to teach my kid that it’s OK to say no to an adult who lays a hand on her — even a seemingly friendly hand.

Sandusky’s comments on child rape allegations

“When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them,” said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. “This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’ ”

Protection against predators

Forcing children to touch people when they don’t want to leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers, most of whom are people known to the children they abuse, according to Ursula Wagner, a mental health clinician with the FamilyWorks program at Heartland Alliance in Chicago. None of the child victims of sexual abuse or assault she’s counseled was attacked by strangers, she said.

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Sometimes a child picks up on something odd about your brother-in-law that no one knows. It may not be that he’s a sexual predator. He may just have no sense of boundaries or tickle too much, which can be torture for a person who doesn’t like it. Or he may be a predator.

“It sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it’s not up to them what they do with their bodies,” said Wagner. “If they are obligated to be affectionate even if they don’t want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on.”

Why wait until there’s trouble? Parenting coach Sharon Silver worked hard to cultivate her children’s detector. Silver says her sons easily pick up on subtle clues that suggest something isn’t quite right about particular people or situations.

In your child’s case, it may be that something’s off about Aunt Linda or the music teacher down the street.

“It’s something inside of you that tells you when something is wrong,” said Silver. Training your child to pay attention to those instincts may protect him or her in the future.

Having sex to please someone else

Would you want your daughter to have sex with her boyfriend simply to make him happy? Parents who justify ordering their children to kiss grandma might say, “It’s different.”

No, it’s not, according to author Jennifer Lehr, who blogs about her parenting style. Ordering children to kiss or hug an adult they don’t want to touch teaches them to use their body to please you or someone else in authority or, really, anyone.

“The message a child gets is that not only is another person’s emotional state their responsibility but that they must also sacrifice their own bodies to buoy another’s ego or satisfy their desire for love or affection,” said Lehr.

“Certainly no parent would wish for their teenager or adult child to feel pressure to reciprocate unwanted sexual advances, yet many teach their children at a young age that it’s their job to use their bodies to make others happy,” she said.

We can’t be rude

You might think my daughter’s shiftless parents are not teaching her manners, but that’s not true. She will shake your hand in greeting or give you a high-five when we’re saying goodbye. She knows how to set the table and place a napkin in her lap. She even has me saying a little all-inclusive blessing she brought home from school.

We’ve trained her to say please and thank you so often that she’ll say it back to me when I ask her anything. “What did you say?” I sometimes ask her when I didn’t hear her. “Please?” she’ll answer. No, I meant what did she actually say? (Maybe we’re overdoing it.)

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

She has to be polite when greeting people, whether she knows them or not. When family and friends greet us, I give her the option of “a hug or a high-five.” Since she’s been watching adults greet each other with a handshake, she sometimes offers that option. We talk about high-fives so often she’s started using them to meet anyone, which can make the start of any social occasion look like a touchdown celebration.

“When kids are really little and shy, parents can start to offer them choices for treating people with respect and care,” said van der Zande. “By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody’s hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners — treating people with respect and care — is different than demanding physical displays of affection.”

It creates more work

Refusing to order her to hand out hugs or kisses on demand means there’s more work to keep the relationships going and keep feelings from being hurt. Most of our extended family live far away, so it’s my job to teach my kiddo about people she doesn’t see on a daily basis.

We make sure to keep in contact with calls and Skype and presents. In advance of loved ones’ visits, which usually means an all-day plane ride, I talk a lot about how we’re related to our guests, what they mean to me and what we’re going to do when they arrive. I give them plenty of opportunity to interact with her so she can learn to trust them.

I explain to relatives who want to know why we’re letting her decide who she touches. And when she does hug them, the joy is palpable. Not from obligation or a direct order from Mom.

And while I hope I’m teaching my child how to take care of herself in the future, there are benefits to allowing her to express affection in her own way and on her own timeline. When my child cuddled up to my mother on the sofa recently, happily talking to her about stories and socks and toes and other things, my mother’s face lit up. She knew it was real.

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CSA: A local pastor has spoken out about his experience


Darkness to Light is getting increased response for workshops on preventing childhood sexual abuse since the Penn State scandal. A local pastor has spoken out about his experience.

By Adrianne Murchison January 12, 2012

Darwin Hobbs, who is training to become a Darkness to Light facilitator, said he was sexually abused by his stepfather from 10- to 12-years-old.

“For many years I kept it secret and I did not tell a soul until I was about to marry my wife Tracy, in 1993,” said Hobbs, 43, a worship pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, in Norcross.

Hobbs said he told his mother just before his 40th birthday, after his stepfather died. He now talks about it openly, as part of his healing process. “There is tons of shame behind that kind of thing happening. You’re flooded with guilt, all kinds of depression…It’s like I literally died. Like all, sense of normalcy for me was no longer possible,” Hobbs said.

The harm is even deeper if an adult witnesses the abuse and doesn’t stop it. “Because you go though life with a sense of fear and not feeling protected,” he said. Referring to the Penn State scandal, Hobbs said, “I can only imagine if someone said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and you are rescued.”

One in four girls, and one in six boys are abused by their 18th birthday, according to Darkness to Light.

Yet conversations on sexual abuse can often bring an uncomfortable silence.

It’s something that Sandy Springs resident Kim Cunninghis is used to. Since 2006, she has been talking about sexual abuse prevention as a facilitator for Darkness to Light, the children’s protection agency that Hobbs is training with.

“I would get push back from people saying, ‘I have boys,’ or ‘My kids are older. I would know by now,’ “ said Cunninghis, a mother of two. “I flat out had people say, ‘It’s not in our neighborhood; not in our community.’ “

Since news broke on the Penn State and Syracuse University scandals, people are a little more willing to talk openly about sexual abuse and prevention, Cunninghis said.

Calls have increased and more men have expressed interest in Darkness to Light workshops. The sessions raise awareness for parents and people who work with children. “Then you can start having a dialogue with your kids. Or your child is going to a sleepover and you want to be aware of who is going to be in the house,” Cunninghis said.

She added, “It teaches you kind of what to look for in a perpetrator. The grooming process; how long it takes. It’s not just the child that gets groomed, it’s the entire family. And in [Jerry] Sandusky’s case [at Penn State] that was an entire state.”

These can be scary concepts for a parent, said Daren Roberts, a children’s instructor at Alliance Martial Arts, in Sandy Springs, who took the Darkness to Light workshop.

Unlike, say, bullying, sexual abuse is not something people talk openly about, he said. “It’s very scary for a parent to try to conceptualize that there are [harmful] relationships in your child’s day to day life that you are not aware of,” he said. “And you have to protect other kids too.”

The training helps adults talk about their own experiences. Cunninghis said, “People have come forward and given good feedback [following the workshops]. They’ve said, “Yes it was somebody my family knew…”

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CSA: Teaching Kids About Sexual Abuse: It’s OK To Tell

Great NPR story!  –Joy


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CSA: Caught By a Predator: Woman Speaks Out 10 Years After Her Abduction


January 5, 2002



January 2012


by Luke Gilkerson

His sweaty hand squeezed her hand tightly as they made the five-hour drive to his home, saying things like, “Shut up. Be good. The trunk’s cleaned out for you.” Terrified, 13-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz wondered how she might escape or if she would live to see her family again. Finally, late that night, Scott Tyree arrived with his captive at his home in Herndon, Virginia. He escorted her to his cold basement. There she could see sadistic devices hanging on the wall. And over the next several days Tyree would rape her, beat her, and share images of his new sex slave to his buddies over the Internet.

It has been 10 years since Tyree abducted Alicia outside her home on New Year’s Day, 2002. As she told me the details of her story, she never once said his name. She only referred to him as “the monster.” She recounted for me the details of her four-day-long nightmare.

But for Alicia, the story doesn’t begin the day of her abduction. It begins months earlier in a chat room. Parents, you won’t want to miss what she has to say.

Groomed for Abduction

Earlier in 2001, Alicia met “Christine,” a red-haired 14-year-old girl, online. They became very close, sharing secrets, problems, and girlhood crushes. To the lonely, bored Alicia, Christine represented what she really wanted in a good friend. Even after finding out that “Christine” was really a 31-year-old man named John, this only shook her for a few hours before continuing communication with him. After all, he had been a good friend to her, hadn’t he?

John introduced Alicia to Scott Tyree. He too was thoughtful, gentle, courteous, and respectful. He seem to be there for her, waiting on the other end of her computer whenever she needed him. If she got in a fight with her mom, Tyree was there to take her side. If she got a bad grade, Tyree was there to validate her intelligence. When she got in a fight with friends at school, he was there to be a friend when it seemed no one else was. Slowly, for over half a year, Tyree played on Alicia’s teenage vulnerabilities until she was convinced she needed him.

As time went on, Tyree introduced more and more sexual topics into their online conversations. She began parroting back to him the things she thought he wanted to hear. Words were exchanged. Photos were sent. At times they would instant message each other through the night. Facilitated by the anonymity of the Internet, bit by bit Tyree chiseled away at Alicia’s inhibitions.

The process is called grooming. “Grooming is essentially brainwashing,” Alicia told me. “It is taking you apart bit by bit, and putting you back together into who this person wants you to be.” Grooming is “a premeditated behavior intended to secure the trust and cooperation of children prior to engaging in sexual conduct,” says Dr. Raymond Choo, Senior Lecturer at the University of Southern Australia. Offenders, he says, “take a particular interest in their child victim to make them feel special,” and then over time introduce a sexual element to the relationship, desensitizing the child to sexual topics and behavior.

Grooming is something child predators have done since before the days of the World Wide Web, but as Alicia sadly learned, the Internet has become another medium for predators to groom potential victims.

The Million-to-One Rescue

“He was very abusive and extremely sadistic,” Alicia shared with me. “He was an absolute monster: the kind you would watch in a horror movie. He was terrifying and completely overpowering in every single way.”

The morning of January 4, Alicia was chained to the floor with a leather collar around her neck. Before leaving for work at Computer Associates International, Tyree looked into her eyes and said, “Alicia, I’m beginning to like you too much. Tonight we’re going to go for a ride.” Alicia believed this would be the last day of her life.

But Tyree had made one fatal error. The night of her abduction, shortly after arriving home, Tyree posted an instant message to an online friend in Tampa, Florida: “I got one.” He then posted a picture of Alicia using his webcam. At first the man believed it was fake, but later went to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website and found a story about a missing girl along with Alicia’s photo. He knew then Tyree was serious. Later Tyree sent images of Alicia with her arms bound above her head, being beaten, and she was crying.

The Florida man called the FBI the evening of January 3 from a payphone, saying he had information about a missing girl. The next morning the informant called back and gave investigator’s Tyree’s Yahoo screen name: “masterforteenslavegirls.” Using this information, investigators reached a Yahoo vice president in California requesting the IP (Internet Protocol) address. And after placing a call to Verizon representatives in Texas, at 11:30 a.m. they finally learned his name: Scott William Tyree.

It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Tyree was due home any minute. Alicia remembers the moment she heard the pounding at the door. Frightened and traumatized, she crawled under the bed to hide. “We have guns! We have guns!” she heard. Entering her room they found her, stood her up, and draped her in a coat to cover her nakedness. And then—as she says in her 2007 testimony before Congress—”Then I saw the most beautiful letters in the alphabet—FBI—in bold yellow on the backs of their jackets. And I knew that I was safe.”

Scott Tyree was arrested the same day at his place of employment. He is now serving a 19-year prison sentence.

Could It Happen to Your Kids?

It has been a decade since Alicia’s abduction and rescue. After much therapy and years of healing, Alicia decided to start speaking about her experiences to teens. She’s been in countless classrooms and school assemblies. She’s helped out with educational films for the FBI, Enough is Enough, PBS, and the Pennsylvania Attorney General, to name just a few. She’s taken her message everywhere from Oprah to the U.S. legislators.

Alicia’s story may seem fantastic—like something we might see on Law and Order: SVU or a made-for-TV movie. In many ways it is fantastic, but there are also elements of Alicia’s story that are very typical of online predation.

Alicia knows by experience she is not an anomaly. In her travels to schools all over the country, she has met many teens who, like herself, have started venturing into risky relationships online.

Thanks to research funded by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, hundreds of case level interviews have been conducted concerning sexual offenses against minors that started with online encounters. The first wave of this research concerned cases in late 2000 and early 2001 (shortly before Alicia’s own abduction).

  • Like Alicia, who was 13 at the time, most victims (75%) were ages 13-15 years old. None were younger than 12.
  • Like Tyree, most (95%) did not try to pass themselves off as minors online. Some predators (25%) shaved a few years off their true age, but still said they were adults.
  • Like Alicia, most victims (61%) did not come from broken homes, but rather lived with both biological parents.
  • Like Tyree, most offenders (64%) spoke with their victims online for more than a month before meeting face-to-face.
  • Like Alicia, most victims (76%) first meet their offender in a chat room.*
  • Like Tyree, most offenders (80%) brought up sexual topics with their victims online, and in only 21% of cases did the offender lie about their sexual interest in the victim.

One major difference between Alicia’s story and most other cases of predation is the level of brutality and violence. Only 5% of cases 10 years ago involved any violence or the threat of violence, and only 3% involved abduction. In most cases (83%) the victim chose to go somewhere with their offender after meeting face-to-face, and most victims (73%) willingly met with their offender on more than one occasion. In fact, half of the cases involved teens who, after the offender’s arrest, said they still felt close to or in love with their offender. Most cases of online predation are cases of statutory rape.

In other words, as far as her abduction and sadistic rape is concerned, cases like Alicia’s are somewhat rare. But as far as her online interactions with Tyree are concerned, Alicia’s case is a prototype. Most cases of predation are not violent sex crimes, says Dr. David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC). “But they are criminal seductions that take advantage of common teenage vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to encounters that the teens know are sexual in nature with people who are considerably older than themselves.”

Dr. Finkelhor says what puts kids most in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with strangers.  Kids who have a pattern of multiple risky activities online, like meeting lots of people through online text or video chat, are most at risk. Kids must avoid “behaving like an Internet daredevil,” Finkelhor says. Like Alicia, these could be the shy kids looking for someone to meet. Many of them are kids who have a lot of conflicts at home or at school. Many struggle with loneliness or depression. To these kids, a warm, affirming relationship with an adult can seem very attractive. Mix in teenage sexual inquisitiveness, and the disinhibition effect of the Internet, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Beyond Predators: Children Used for Pornography

As I spoke with her, what seemed to be on Alicia’s mind were the countless children who are enduring brutal sexual abuse, at the hands of strangers or (more likely) people they know. She asked me, “If somebody told you that the little girl down the street was being raped, would we do nothing about it?”

Some like Alicia are taken from their homes, trafficked across states or national lines, where they are either used as sex slaves or prostituted in underground brothels. Also like Alicia, images of these children are shared online.

Nonetheless, this kind of sexual brutality is far more commonly committed by perpetrators in a child’s own family or social circle. Researchers at the CCRC state that in spite of all media attention online predators have received, “offenders who victimize children and youth within their families or networks of acquaintances are much more common than those who use the Internet to meet victims.”

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office produced a map showing the locations of half-a-million identified individuals who are trafficking in images of child pornography. Sharing this with me, Alicia was quick to correct this label: “These are actually crime scene images of child rape. I think the term ‘child pornography’ waters it down a bit.” Moreover, one in three dots on the map marks the location of a hands-on child abuser.

This map was introduced as evidence to the House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “Law enforcement knows who they are and where they are,” Wasserman Schultz said. “What shocked me the most and what compelled me to get involved in this issue is that due to a lack of resources, law enforcement is investigating less than 2 percent of these known 500,000 individuals.”

This is why Alicia has been traveling throughout the country to convince legislators to pass what has become known as “Alicia’s Law.” Having passed in Virginia and Texas, Alicia is now going after the 48 others states. This law provides law enforcement agencies the resources needed to fight crimes against children, especially when related to trafficking and child pornography.

Alicia has also helped to spearhead the Not One More Child campaign. Hoping for more immediate action, she is petitioning President Obama and the 50 state governors to declare a state of emergency to do something about the untold thousands of kids suffering at the hands of traffickers and child pornographers.

(Our readers can go to and to take action.)

Alicia’s Legacy

“I certainly believe that I was rescued for a reason,” Alicia told me. As my interview with her ended, my heart was heavy, but not nearly as burdened as Alicia felt for the children who have yet to be rescued. More than anyone, she knows something of their nightmare. “They stand beside me,” she said, “the voices who’ve been silenced by fear, by shame, by the grave.”

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CSA: My Daughter was Caught By a Predator: A Word of Warning from One Parent to Another


by Mary Kozakiewicz

Thursday, January 12th, 2012


On New Year’s Day, 2002, my 13-year-old daughter, Alicia, was lured from our Pennsylvania home and stolen to Virginia by a man whom she had been introduced to online. For eight months, this sadistic madman masqueraded as her friend, grooming my daughter, restructuring her thought patterns through coercive mind control, and bypassing those core values which her father and I had labored to deeply ingrain. A 38-year-old computer programmer, father to his own 12 year old daughter, held my little girl captive, chained to the floor by her neck in his basement dungeon as he repeatedly raped and tortured her.

Throughout the entire grooming process, my husband and I were totally clueless, and therefore helpless to circumvent the unfolding tragedy.

Our Lives Before

The night of Alicia’s abduction was blisteringly cold. Outside of our warm family home, redolent of holiday fragrance, the winds raged and whipped snowy ice crystals against the candle-lit windows reflecting our traditional little two-parent two-child family.

It is captured forever in my mind’s eye, this golden moment in time. We were happy, secure–and desperately unprepared for what would follow. To the casual passerby, we would have appeared to be an All-American Norman Rockwell painting, and certainly, that’s what we felt that we were. As with any family, our lives were certainly less than perfection but, to this day, I miss the “us” that we were before January 1, 2002.

Looking back, I treasure my memory of our joined hands; heads bowed in prayer, as we shared those moments we were most thankful for in the year past, and our resolutions for the new.

These were our last moments of grace.

For, in the passage of these ten years, each of us has been irrevocably altered, and our lives overshadowed by the event. One does not survive every parent’s worst nightmare and remain unscathed.

The Nightmare and the Rescue

When Alicia, excusing herself from the dinner table, slipped silently out of our front door and into oblivion, she carried with her the hopes, dreams, and the expectations that for each parent begin the moment our children are born. Hours later, after police reports were made and family members had returned to their own home, we sat curled in terrified misery as through our suddenly silent home, the clock’s tick-tick-ticking counted the seconds of our precious child’s life—and our own—slip-slip-slipping away.

The specialized law enforcement which responded, The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, shared with us in the days that followed that our daughter’s chance of recovery was perhaps a million to one. It would take a miracle…

Nearly hopeless, and brought to our knees us to our knees by grief and exhaustion, we began to do the only thing left to us: we prayed. We prayed for miracles.

And they came.

Days, eternities later, Law Enforcement was able to locate the needle in the haystack that was my daughter, only because the braggart Internet Predator shared Alicia’s abuse and degradation with his fellow pedophilic perverts via streaming online video. Cutting the chains from Alicia’s neck, they returned her to freedom—and to my arms.

Parents Remain Clueless

A decade’s journey behind us, our family has risen from its knees to wage war against online sexual abuse and exploitation. Internet crimes against children have grown exponentially, and no child—or their parents—are safe from these monsters.

When Alicia was lured and abducted, the Internet was in its infancy. Most parents, myself included, knew little to nothing of this new technology that had begun to forever restructure the ways in which humanity would interact with each other. Unbeknownst to parents, schools had begun teaching our children how to surf the net, but were neglecting to teach them how to protect themselves online.

Sadly, today, having presented the Alicia Project Internet Safety and Awareness Program to thousands of children and their parents, we have found that many of them remain as clueless as we were.

This is not acceptable! Parents must educate themselves to the dangers their children are encountering each and every time they set their fingers to the keyboard. The tragedy that Alicia and our family suffered may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, but the danger that every child is constantly exposed to every time he or she goes online is no less damaging. The availability of hardcore porn, which incessantly attacks even the innocent and unsuspecting children as they surf the web, desensitizes them and endangers their future ability to maintain decent loving marriages. Indeed, young people have shared with us their Internet addiction as well as their fear that the Internet has led them to prey on younger children.

So, what can parents do? We can do a lot!

The Sexualization of Our Children

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that, through media, our children are being sexualized far beyond their ability to cope with the psychological ramifications. Subsequently, we must cease to hide behind those psychological defense mechanisms that give a false sense of security.

After Alicia’s recovery, the general public chose to believe that we were poor parents and to place the blame on our family rather than on the predator. Thus, they were able to convince themselves that if we were “bad parents” as compared to their ”good” parenting, then their resultant “good child” was safe. But quite the opposite is true.

The web is a level playing field for predators. Every child—yes, your little prince or princess—is vulnerable. Alicia’s abductor initially began the grooming process by simply being her friend and by giving her seemingly unconditional love, something that any responsible parent setting boundaries and enforcing consequences can rarely compete with.

Therefore, as parents we must strive to communicate with our children in an open and honest manner when discussing the Web and its inherent dangers. Despite the discomfiture we may feel when discussing sexually taboo areas with our children, kids need to know that they can confide in us without our becoming judgmental. Predators will use that same fear and shame as coercion.

On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that, as their safety is our responsibility, nothing should be left to chance. Privacy issues are no argument when the need for monitoring software arises. We lock our doors and our liquor cabinets. We surreptitiously sniff their breath for evidence of cigarettes or alcohol. Logically, if we hold them to geographical boundaries and curfews, we should do so on the Internet highway as well. Remember: it’s their home, but it’s our house and our computer. As such, we have the right to monitor usage.

Also, as parents, we must stand and demand effective legislation to keep our children from the hands of predators; especially those which supply funding and resources for the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, such as Alicia’s namesake, Alicia’s Law. Call your local legislators; ask them what laws they are endorsing to battle child sexual exploitation. Vote accordingly.

All too often I have been asked whether I suffered from feelings of guilt, and my answer has been that I do not. I know that I did everything that I could have to protect Alicia utilizing the information that I had been given at that time.

But I am a mother, and as parents, we are ultimately responsible, aren’t we? I would give anything to have known better, to have saved Alicia from that monster.

Consider this your wake-up call, moms and dads. How will you answer that question?

. . . .

Mary Kozakiewicz is a member of Team HOPE, dedicated to empowering the families of missing children. She is also a member of the Surviving Parents Coalition, advocating for education and legislation that will help to prevent crimes against children. Along with her husband, Charles, and daughter, Alicia, she has participated in Internet Safety films for both Law Enforcement and the private sector.

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Suicide: The Warning Signs of Suicide

Something to keep in mind: When someone struggling with the decision of whether to commit suicide or not decides to do so, there is emotional relief.  He/she has a way out of the helpless feelings.  If someone you know who is overwhelmingly depressed becomes suddenly happy, investigate. 

It is a myth that someone talking about suicide will not commit suicide.  Usually, following a completed suicide, friends and loved ones can look back and recognize warning signs. 

Eric James Borges, an advocate for life, committed suicide this week after producing an ‘It Gets Better’ video.  Plato said it best, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”




Suicide is rarely a spur of the moment decision. In the days and hours before people kill themselves, there are usually clues and warning signs.

The strongest and most disturbing signs are verbal – “I can’t go on,” “Nothing matters any more” or even “I’m thinking of ending it all.” Such remarks should always be taken seriously.

Other common warning signs include:

  • Becoming depressed or withdrawn
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Getting affairs in order and giving away valued possessions
  • Showing a marked change in behavior, attitudes or appearance
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Suffering a major loss or life change

The following list gives more examples, all of which can be signs that somebody is contemplating suicide. Of course, in most cases these situations do not lead to suicide. But, generally, the more signs a person displays, the higher the risk of suicide.


  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Death of a close friend or family member
  • Divorce or separation, ending a relationship
  • Failing academic performance, impending exams, exam results
  • Job loss, problems at work
  • Impending legal action
  • Recent imprisonment or upcoming release


  • Crying
  • Fighting
  • Breaking the law
  • Impulsiveness
  • Self-mutilation
  • Writing about death and suicide
  • Previous suicidal behavior
  • Extremes of behavior
  • Changes in behavior

Physical Changes

  • Lack of energy
  • Disturbed sleep patterns – sleeping too much or too little
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Increase in minor illnesses
  • Change of sexual interest
  • Sudden change in appearance
  • Lack of interest in appearance

Thoughts and Emotions

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Loneliness – lack of support from family and friends
  • Rejection, feeling marginalized
  • Deep sadness or guilt
  • Unable to see beyond a narrow focus
  • Daydreaming
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Helplessness
  • Loss of self-worth


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CSA: karen e fennell’s blog: Why Treatment and Recovery are Important


Wed, 01/11/2012 – 14:21 — karen e fennell

I think it is important to recognize the work done by those who have who have suffered childhood trauma. Today I want to acknowledge bravery.  I know many of you seek treatment for personal relief, or because someone has recommended you do so, but I don’t know if you take any time to understand the significance of what you are doing.

Abuse tends to be generational; it is the “gift” that just keeps on giving.  Statistically, 80% of those who abuse have an abuse history.  Let me clarify that a bit; it doesn’t mean that 80% of all abused children will go on to abuse, but 80% of those who do abuse, have been harmed during childhood.  Those are pretty big numbers; treatment and recovery can bring that statistic way down.

Surprisingly, the harm passed down generation to generation doesn’t always come packaged in brutal sexual assault either.  Without a proper understanding of how sexual abuse has affected the survivor, there is a chance that that survivor can unwittingly pass down the wrong message.  I will give you an example.

I worked with the “Smith” family.  I was seeing one of their sons, but I spent time a significant amount of time with the entire family.  Their son, “Jeff”, age 20, exhibited all of the classic symptoms of PTSD, he was depressed, anxious, had a history of self injury, felt guilty and ashamed of sexual activity, and couldn’t manage to keep his life on track.  His two sisters were struggling in a similar fashion.  The interesting thing was that there was no evidence what-so-ever of any sexual abuse.

Jeff was part of a really great family.  The parents were happily married and the environment was supportive and loving.  His childhood was unremarkable; no bullying or difficulties with peers.  He was a good student, as were his siblings.  The family had enough money to travel and have Jeff attend good schools.  Nothing was out of place except one glaring issue.

Jeff’s mother, “Becky”, had a horrendous sexual abuse history.  She had been brutalized by her grandfather on a weekly basis for many of her young years.  The abusive grandfather died before Becky married.  The trauma was so intense that Becky never mentioned it to her spouse and was too ashamed to seek treatment.

When the children were young, Becky tried to be a wonderful mother and wife, but suffered from bouts of deep depression.  She felt uncertain as to how to be a good mother and often found herself disengaged from her children.  That emotional detachment was felt by her babies and small children; mommy just didn’t feel “right”.   Jeff and his siblings learned early on to feel unsafe and wary of the world because they could sense the fear that their mother carried.

But probably the most harmful aspect of their infancy and early childhood was Becky’s feeling of perversion when she changed diapers, bathed and clothed her children.  Becky was so damaged by her grandfather and her boundaries so twisted, that she felt like a predator when she performed the necessary tasks of motherhood.  She felt like a child molester when she cleaned her son’s penis, she felt ashamed when they stood naked waiting to be dressed, she was overcome with a sense of guilt when she washed their little bodies in the bathtub.

I want to be perfectly clear here…..Becky never did anything inappropriate with those children, but she conveyed a message that the normal, loving touches by her were somehow perverted and twisted.  The certainty that she was being sexually perverse raced through Becky’s mind every time she touched her children and they sensed and absorbed her guilt and shame.  Jeff and his siblings became abuse victims through their mother’s message that her touch was somehow wrong and shameful.

It took some time for the entire family to get back on solid ground, but they did.  And they did it by letting go of the secrecy and talking openly about their experiences.  By being brave, the family has done a great job of greatly reducing the chances of the next generation getting caught in the cycle of abuse.  I am certain that horrid abuse dished out by a grandfather can be buried with this generation.

So my hat is tipped to all of you who are not hiding.  You are brave.  You are strong.  You are part of the solution to ending the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse.  Well done….I am proud of each and every one of you.

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Child Abuse: [California] State audit: Welfare systems fail to protect abused, neglected kids

Let me start by saying, “Duh.” (Foreshadowing of sarcasm to come…)  This is the case in my experience.  There are some very diligent DFCS workers whose hands are tied by the system within which they work (in my community).  I’ll leave it at that.  If you can’t say something nice…

October 28, 2011 | Bernice Yeung

Child welfare officials say they are reviewing recommendations in a state audit released yesterday that found serious problems with the child welfare system, ranging from registered sex offenders living or working in homes for foster care children to a failure to investigate deaths due to child abuse.

“This report concludes that California can and must provide these children better protection and support,” the Bureau of State Audits report [PDF] stated.

The review of county child welfare systems, which are overseen by the State Department of Social Services, was prompted by the 2008 deaths of several children in the Central Valley, including 10-year-old Seth Ireland, who was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend despite repeated reports to Fresno County’s Child Protective Services.

“It is our obligation to ensure these tragedies are never forgotten and that we do everything in our power to ensure the welfare and safety of our children,” Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, said in a statement. He called for the audit in February.

The report made recommendations and advised the Department of Social Services to use federal criminal databases to ensure that registered sex offenders are not living or working in foster care facilities, and encouraged internal death reviews by county agencies.

“Safety of children is our top priority, and we will review the audit and continue to work with licensed facilities and counties to identify the best ways to ensure the safety of children,” said Michael Weston, a spokesman for the social services department.

The report examined child welfare services in Alameda, Fresno and Sacramento counties. State officials also planned to analyze data from Los Angeles County, which is home to nearly half of the foster children in the state, but the county refused to release the relevant records. Auditors are slated to issue a separate report on Los Angeles in January 2012.

The state’s analysis found a number of problems related to licensing and oversight of foster care facilities and a lack of consistency in reviewing abuse-related deaths.

The most glaring problem, according to auditors, is that the Department of Social Services did not heed a 2008 audit recommendation to use Department of Justice databases to identify “sex offenders who may be inappropriately living or working in its licensed facilities or in the homes of foster children.” [AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  Just put our most vulnerable in the wolves’ den.]

According to the audit, licensed child welfare facilities and foster care homes matched the addresses of 1,000 sex offenders statewide, and 600 of those were considered high risk. But the Department of Social Services said the audit’s approach relied on outdated addresses, and a resulting investigation resulted in the revocation or temporary suspension of licenses to eight facilities statewide. Additionally, 31 people either living or working in licensed facilities were ordered to stay away from these foster care homes. [Granted, the database is outdated. There are too few employees at that level to input that massive amount of sex offender data being added each year.  But did they work with the info that was available to them???]

Still, social welfare experts say that licensing of child welfare facilities has been an ongoing concern in California.

“I don’t think it’s surprising,” said Jacquelyn McCroskey, a child welfare professor at USC’s School of Social Work. “I was very happy that they called attention to the licensing because it has been neglected and it really is an essential building block for keeping safe.”

It currently is not illegal for registered sex offenders to live in a foster home, a “loophole that needs to be closed as soon as possible,” said Alisha Gallon, a spokeswoman for Perea, the Fresno assemblyman.

The report also noted that because it is not required by law, some counties did not conduct internal reviews when a child in the care of county protective services dies. About 100 children [PDF] died in California due to abuse or neglect in 2009.  [Wow, I just keep saying bad words to myself that I don’t want to post on a blog.  DIDN’T CONDUCT REVIEWS AFTER FATALITIES?!?  MULTIPLE TIMES?!?!?!  Heads buried in the sand; children in their graves.]

“The report underscores the importance of getting everyone involved in figuring out what happened when a kid dies so we can prevent it from happening again,” said Ed Howard of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute. “For too long, there has been a lack of accountability and leadership in foster care that has been masked by appeals to protect the privacy interest of kids when in reality, the net result is a lack of accountability, a lack of attention and a lack of demand for reform, which is hurting kids.”

In Alameda County, for example, a case involving a domestic violence victim who had reportedly hit her children was classified as an emotional abuse case by the child welfare agency. A week after a social worker made a home visit, the mother was accused of killing one of her children. The audit cited this case as an example that “underscores the importance of reviewing such child deaths to determine whether opportunities exist to improve policies and procedures to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

“Ultimately, it was a nice ability to get some confirmation of different processes we have in place in Fresno,” such as an internal death review system, said Howard Himes, incoming director of Fresno County’s Children and Family Services. “The recommendations are addressed specifically to the state, not to the county, but we will work closely with the state to implement them, and we look forward to that.”

Perea is considering legislation that would mandate internal reviews of any deaths of children under the care of Child Protective Services, a spokeswoman said. [Ya think?]

The audit also found that counties like Alameda do not meet the state standard for ongoing case visits to children’s homes. Officials there acknowledged that making ongoing case maintenance visits was a place where improvements could be made, but “overall, we fared pretty well and we have, over the last five to 10 years, worked on system improvements,” said Sylvia Soublet, spokeswoman for the Alameda County Social Services Agency. “It’s something we do continuously, and we are always looking at where and how we can get better at what we do.”

There has been a notable increase in the use of expensive foster family agencies, the report said, from 18 to 29 percent in the past 12 years. “We estimate that the growth in the percentage of placements with foster family agencies, which have dramatically higher rates than licensed foster homes, has resulted in spending an additional $327 million in foster care payments between 2001 and 2010 – costing an additional $61 million in 2010 alone,” the audit said.

California child welfare agencies received 480,000 allegations of maltreatment of children in 2010 and substantiated 87,000 of these allegations, according to the UC Berkeley Center for Social Services Research. About 57,000 children were in out-of-home placements in California as of January 2011. The state estimates that California’s systemwide child welfare budget was about $5.5 billion in fiscal year 2010-11.

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CSA: Children With Sexual Behavior Problems

In my (higher than average but not expert) studies on childhood sexual abuse, I understand that best practices with terminology are “children with sexual behavior problems.”  To label them as offenders or perpetrators is probably not the best use of terms.  Children with sexual behavior problems who receive treatment have a very low recidivism rate.  They are a different breed from adults who are sexual offenders or perpetrators. –Joy

“Children Are Often Sexual Abuse Offenders To Other Children”

Uploaded by on Dec 1, 2011
Diane Cranley, the Founder & President of TAALK, talks about how children can often be the sexual offender to other children. Diane discusses how TAALK’s new CSA Best Practices for Youth-Serving Organizations will teach organizations how to protect the children in their care from being abused not by child molesters but also by other children in the program as well.

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Prevention: I’m embarrassed to ask that…what will they think of me?

“I’m embarrassed to ask that…what will they think of me?”

This is what many parents tell us when we discuss the importance of asking “safety questions” to another parent/friend before sending their kids to a play date or sleep over, or off to sports practice.

With all of the stories in the media lately about seemingly “trusted adults” in children’s lives who have broken that trust and abused children, it is important to ask yourself as a parent “Is my discomfort with asking safety questions more important than my child’s safety?” “Is the chance of “offending” someone by asking these questions more important than my child’s safety?”

Perhaps a year ago you might not have even thought to ask – but now that you have woken up to the epidemic of child abuse happening everyday across the nation, now that you know that 90% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know, you can’t just bury your head in the sand or say that would never happen to my child…because it can and it does.

We want your children to be safe. We want you as parents to feel that you have done everything in your power to keep your child safe. We want you to feel confident that you have taught your child what they need to know, so when they are not with you they will make the safest and smartest choices…and if anything “unsafe” does happen, that they would report it to you immediately. With that said, below are some the important questions/discussions that are important to ask the many other people you entrust with your child.

Play date/Sleep over:

  • Who will be watching the children?
  • Do you have older children and will they or their friends be present?
  • Do you have a gun in your house?
  • What safety rules do you have in your house?
  • Will you be staying at your house? What is the plan?
  • Is the TV and internet use monitored?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements?

At the end of the day we hope that your child will be having a play date or sleep over with a family you know well and is like minded when it comes to safety. Asking these questions does not ensure your child will be safe, but how the adult answers the questions is important to your child’s safety. Are they offended? Do they tell you that you are too overprotective? Are they giving you the answers that make you feel your child will be in a safe environment? Would you say “NO” if your gut told you it would not be a safe situation for your child?

Conversations with your child:

  • Your body is special and belongs to you
  • You are in charge of your body and nobody should touch you in any way that makes you feel confused, weird, uncomfortable or on your private parts
  • You should not touch or look at anyone’s privates
  • When over a friend’s house clothes must always stay on
  • No one should take pictures of your privates or show you pictures of naked people
  • No playing in the master bedroom
  • No one should ever ask you to keep a secret from us – or keep a secret that you are NEVER allowed to tell
  • Let your child know that you will always believe them and praise them when they report unsafe situations to you
  • Model and role play situations so your child will know what to do and how to respond
  • Discuss your safety rules and they should be followed when you are at another’s house
  • Have a code word your child can say to you over the phone so if your child wants to leave they don’t have to be embarrassed.

After reading that lengthy list and having these conversations it does not mean your child will be safe, or that your child will follow your directions, but you open the door to conversations that should be had on a regular basis as a natural part of your parenting. If you and all your friends, your children’s friend’s parents all start speaking the same language of safety and are excepting to openly discuss these questions your children will be safer. So are you still embarrassed to ask these questions? If you answered yes…get over it! Nothing is more important than your child’s safety!

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