U.S. must redeem shameful child abuse and exploitation record

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer Photo: PROTECT.org

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2013 — Vast numbers of our nation’s children become victims of horrific crimes covering all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture and murder. An epidemic of child abuse, maltreatment and exploitation has placed the U.S. ahead of all industrialized nations in this tragic arena. What is worse, according to child safety advocates: these crimes are largely preventable.

Child advocates say it is crucial we prioritize tackling crimes against children, appropriately fund specialized law enforcement agencies and enact legislation to change mandated policy governing social workers acting for Child Protection Services (CPS).

Crime statistics against children can be misleading. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges many incidences of family violence against children go unreported. For example, if a judge does not believe a report of child abuse made during Family Court proceedings, it will not be recorded by CPS. Even so, according to the CDC report, more than 3 million referrals for child maltreatment are received by state and local agencies each year. That is approximately 6 referrals every minute. Add to this, the annual figure of 1,500 CDC recorded deaths from abuse and neglect of children up to 17-years, and many thousands more child deaths attributed to injury or homicide.

One method to obtain a reliable insight into the scope of sexual abuse crimes against children is to examine the prevalence of pedophile activity online.

The latest figures from Protect, the pro-child, anti-crime lobby arm of the National Association to Protect Children, show their supercomputing facility designed by scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a specialized Internet Crimes against Children task force (ICAC) has identified over half a million unique computers engaged in trafficking sadistic images of real-life, crime scenes of child rape and torture, and this number is rapidly rising and predicted to soon tip one million as more perpetrators are uncovered.

“These are not images of a happy child playing naked on the beach or in a bath tub. These images portray the most heinous and sadistic crimes against innocent children imaginable. Each and every one is a crime scene and all need to be criminally investigated and the victims rescued,” said Camille Cooper, Protect Director of Legislative Affairs

Cooper stressed, the term “child pornography” has consensual implications carried over from adult pornography and should be retired and replaced with “child rape” or “child torture.” She said a change in terminology would galvanize people to recognize and respond to the true gravity of the crimes against innocent children and appreciate the level of law enforcement action required in response.

Cooper said ICAC cases are not appropriate for CPS handling because of the specialized, criminal investigative work required. She berated the fact that the two agencies often seem to work at cross purposes.

“A lot of policies governing CPS get in the way of law enforcement.”

Recent weeks have seen mounting criticism of CPS services amidst approval for an audit of three county CPS offices in California, and calls for a nationwide audit.

Cooper acknowledged that some individual CPS personnel were clearly negligent or incompetent in their duties. However, she stressed that in her opinion, the main problem was with counter-productive policies and not with individual social workers. She said there are many social workers of very good intent whose output was hampered by policy regulations.

She explained part of the problem was that CPS is a civil investigative agency and cannot collect evidence of crime. They can only ask questions according to procedural standards.

“The real question is: how many CPS cases will be successful without evidence of the crime? If CPS can’t, by law, collect evidence, then what use will an audit be?”

Protective parents who have lost their children due to CPS intervention would no doubt take issue with this interpretation. However, CPS is being asked to do a job for which they are not equipped. To change their policy requires a change in legislation.

Every state has mandated reporter laws and a hotline for reporting child abuse run by social services. Protect estimates more than half reported cases involve someone in a parental or caretaker role of the alleged child victim and these cases are automatically tracked by CPS before going to law enforcement.

If the perpetrators are involved in Family Court litigation, the case will be excluded from criminal prosecution and excluded from any professional recovery and evaluation of evidence that would be expected in a criminal case.

Reports are received via a child abuse hotline and each case is allocated to a CPS social worker who is mandated to talk to the child and/or their caretaker within a given 24-hour-period. CPS contacts the non-offending caretaker, or if considered necessary, they swoop in and take the child.  By this process, Cooper claims:

“CPS effectively contaminates the crime scene and inadvertently tips off the perpetrator before law enforcement hears about it and can get there.”

She said the offender gets a 24 to three week heads-up before the crime scene is searched, and often a search is never made.

“It’s the equivalent of sending a substance abuse counselor to a meth lab before the cops get there.

If it was a bank robbery or a murder scene, would you send a social worker?

No type of criminal is coddled in this way except child abusers.”

ICAC experience in making arrests and rescuing child victims has led to a conservative estimate that 40% of arrests reveal hands-on perpetrators of sexual violence against children. Cooper said, extensive research has revealed the average perpetrator has at least 14 victims throughout his lifetime, making the scope of real threat against children truly staggering.

In 2008, Protect helped instigate the “Protect our Children Act,” designed to implement a national strategy to counter the rise in Internet crimes against children. By 2010, thanks to the input of stimulus money, programs were receiving up to $55 million in funding, but more recent government action has seen a dramatic, close to halving of funds

There are 61 ICAC units around the nation, but budget cuts have left most grossly undermanned. Cooper said many local agencies are 10 to 20 officers short. She said manpower shortages have meant only 2% of the known perpetrators engaged in trafficking sadistic images of real-life, crime scenes of child rape and torture, have been investigated to date. Of that small percentage investigated: in the vast majority of cases, law enforcement is unable to mount an in-depth search for victims. This is not due to lack of skill, but quite simply, lack of manpower due to lack of funding.

“The tragedy is: this is a problem you can throw money at,” Cooper explained.

She said that practice has shown that with the financial capacity to increase boots on the ground perpetrator arrest and child rescue rates go up on a par with the financial investment and likewise, fall when budgets are cut.

Since one in three of apprehended perpetrators leads to the discovery and potential rescue of local child victims, the funding shortfall currently leaves tens of thousands of child victims unaided to suffer, disappear or die!

The safety of children has been sacrificed because of a congressional budget impasse and we are now amidst a downward trend in numbers of arrests and consequent children saved or protected due to the removal of the threat.

The news is not all grim.

Protect actively lobby and fundraise and are behind the implementation of several major projects to boost boots on the ground but such efforts will only be the icing on the cake without full government commitment to fund the “Protect our Children Act,” and safeguard our nation’s most valuable asset.




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Clare O'Toole

Clare O'Toole is a journalist who has written for several Australian publications, including Times of the West and Freemantle Community Radio.  With an MA in Journalism, O'Toole seeks to uncover injustice in the family courts and what happens when families breakdown. 

Contact Clare O'Toole


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