Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Utah judge has ordered a registered sex offender who faces nearly two dozen charges of child sex abuse released on the basis that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

At a hearing on Thursday, Fourth District Judge James Taylor, who previously ruled Lonnie Johnson incompetent to be tried on sex crime charges, said there were no legal grounds for holding him.

"We are at the end of the road...I can't do anything but have him released from the state hospital," Taylor said at Thursday's hearing.

Taylor said he was following a Utah statute requiring the release of anyone deemed incompetent to stand trial and who has not been convicted of a crime.

Johnson, 38, has been diagnosed with a cognitive disorder. Doctors who examined Johnson found his competency could not be restored. They also said he is not a danger to society and did not qualify for involuntary institutional commitment.

Johnson faces five counts of rape of a child, six counts of sodomy on a child and 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, according to court documents.

In 2006, he was convicted of raping a teenage girl in Washington State, sent to prison for third-degree rape and served less than a year, according to court documents. He is required to register as a sex offender wherever he lives.

"I am outraged that a convicted child sex offender, currently facing another round of accusations, could be released without being tried for current charges," Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert said.

"It's outrageous for both the victims and the accused that Mr. Johnson won't get his day in court," he said.

In November, a status hearing will be held under the judge's orders, and he will appoint two new doctors to evaluate Johnson.

Prosecutors have also filed a new motion asking the judge to reopen competency hearings in the criminal case.

"What I wanted to do was jump over and take care of it myself,'' said Christy Danner, whose daughter is an alleged victim of Johnson.

''But that's not what we can do and that's not the way our system works, and we're going to have to fix this system and then hopefully get him back in the state of Utah and find him competent,'' Danner said on HLN's "Nancy Grace."

Danner cited Johnson's previous ability to hold down jobs and earn a living, and said she thinks Johnson is faking incompetence.

Johnson allegedly abused Danner's daughter, who was his niece by marriage, for six years, starting at age eight in 1997. She is now 21.

Johnson's family has maintained his innocence, alleging the accusations are related to a bitter divorce case.

"We kind of knew going in today that he was going to be released so we were able to at least anticipate that," Danner said.

"But, yeah, we're not happy and the girls are feeling victimized again and our only thing is that we have to close this loophole."

Study: Most Child Abuse Goes Unreported

Children in highly developed countries suffer abuse and neglect much more often than is reported by official child-protective agencies, according to the findings of the first in a comprehensive series of reports on child maltreatment, published Dec. 2 in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Based on a review of research conducted on child abuse between 2000 and June of this year, researchers estimate that 4% to 16% of children are physically abused each year in high-income nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. As many as 15% are neglected, and up to 10% of girls and 5% of boys suffer severe sexual abuse; many more are victims of other sexual injury. Yet researchers say that as few as 1 in 10 of those instances of abuse are actually confirmed by social-service agencies — and that measuring the exact scope of the problem is nearly impossible. (See the Year in Health, from A to Z.)

The issue lies in the delicate nature of the crimes — and the consequences of intervention. Many cases of abuse are rife with potential for long-term harm of the child, whether or not the assault is reported. The decision to report is rarely clear-cut, says Theresa Costello, director of the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services, who was not involved with the new research. "Professionals want to advocate for their clients, but they also know the reality of the public child-welfare system," she says. "There is a natural professional dilemma when you see a kid and you think, 'I should make a report,' but you're not sure you want to subject that child to the system."

Indeed, the second study in the Lancet analysis, citing previous research, reveals that physicians reported only 6% of children's injury cases to protective services, even though they suspected the injury was a result of abuse 10% of the time. Further, researchers say that many more cases of maltreatment — particularly of sexual abuse — are never even suspected, and the victimized children never come forward to report the assaults.

"The official statistics agencies produce are conservative estimates of probably the lowest level of child maltreatment," says Dr. Cathy Spatz Widom, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who specializes in the long-term effects of child abuse and is a lead author on one of the Lancet studies.

Those numbers, researchers say, may now be on the rise. Historically, economic hardship has often corresponded with increases in child abuse, says Dr. Carole Jenny, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University and an expert in identifying and treating victims of child abuse, who authored a commentary in The Lancet. In the past six months, Jenny says she has seen increases in rates of maltreatment and heard similar reports from her colleagues. "I imagine that as the economy worsens, [child-abuse specialists are] only going to be more and more busy," she says, adding that the recession will likely mean less funding for already strained social services. "As the pressures on families are increasing markedly, the amount of help available goes down," she says.

The new research underscores the fact that the most common type of child abuse in developed countries — simple neglect — is often the least publicized. The Lancet analysis finds that neglect is the No. 1 category of maltreatment reported by child-protective services. "We have paid much more attention to physical and sexual abuse. We have called people's attention to it. Even though neglect is the largest portion of cases, it's under everybody's radar," Widom says. "And yet we know that neglected children are at as high a risk as physically abused kids for becoming violent offenders, for example, or having low reading ability." (See pictures of a diverse group of American teens.)

Widom points to years of past research linking early childhood abuse to an increased possibility of long-term behavioral and psychological problems, ranging from low educational achievement to criminal behavior, risky sexual practices and even increased chance of obesity. "Child maltreatment has long-lasting effects across multiple domains of functioning. It's not just in childhood. It lasts into adulthood, and we are not really thinking about these long-term consequences, and we're not planning for them," she says.

Yet there is no completely objective test for the presence of abuse. Identifying victimized children is often a subjective process, and caregivers may be wary of levying false accusations. Self-reports of abuse are frequently flawed and inaccurate as well, says Widom; they often produce the largest estimates of abuse incidence, but their definitions of maltreatment are overly broad. Even when children of abuse are correctly identified, not all caregivers know how to ensure their proper treatment. "There's no gold standard," Widom says.

There is an effort afoot to rectify that problem. Brown University's Jenny is one of roughly 250 pediatricians across the U.S. whose specialty is the identification and prevention of child abuse, and the field is gaining momentum — and standardization. By 2012, a three-year postresidency fellowship will be required of all new pediatricians who wish to specialize in child abuse. And the National Association of Children's Hospitals has advocated requiring all children's medical institutions to have a child-abuse specialist on staff.

The ultimate goal is to prevent abuse in the first place, says Widom, and to protect the well-being of children who have been victimized. "It would be wrong to assume that all maltreated children are going to turn out to have all of these problems," she says.

Cloistered Shame in Israel By TIM McGIRK/JERUSALEM

Among Israel's ultra-orthodox Jews, the Haredim, social workers are often called "child-snatchers" and the police "Cossacks," harking back to the 19th century pogroms against Jews in Russia. These cloistered communities, in which women are expected to raise and financially support their large families while their husbands spend their days stooped over the Torah, make up 10% of Israel's population and a third of Jerusalem's, and consider themselves defenders of a core morality in Jewish society. But that moral authority has come under scrutiny since evidence began to emerge in March of incest, rape and child abuse in four different ultra-orthodox enclaves around the country.

Over the last few weeks the Cossacks have arrived wearing the uniform of the Israeli national police force. In a series of raids following tip-offs from victims' relatives, neighbors and hospital workers, the police have arrested ultra-orthodox wives, husbands and yeshiva students.

Community elders were at first appalled. Now they are grateful for the intervention. "The Haredim are shocked by these cases," says Noach Korman, a Haredi attorney in the rabbinical court that adjudicates family and religious law, and the director of a shelter for battered wives. "At first they said, 'These people are crazy, they don't belong to us.' But now I hear Haredi voices saying: 'We should examine ourselves and not close our eyes to why these things are happening.' "Says Naomi Ragen, an orthodox woman who is an author and advocate for gender equality: "These shocking things had to come out. There was no more room left under the carpet."

Sex predators operate with ease among the ultra-orthodox communities because female victims often keep quiet, knowing that to speak out will damage their prospects of finding a husband. "The families all want their girls to have a AAA marriage to a religious scholar from a good family, and nobody's going to marry a girl who gets raped," says Ragen. In Bnei Brak, a predominately Haredi city near Tel Aviv, social worker Doron Agasi says one young Haredi man told him that he had molested more than a hundred girls. Agasi, director of the Shlom Banaich Fellowship, the only organization in Israel that treats pedophiles and their victims, convinced the young man to confess to the police. But, says Agasi, the authorities refused to bring charges because none of the parents of the alleged victims had filed complaints. Agasi says the rapist is now roaming free.

Convincing the Haredi to work with police and social workers has been a struggle, says Miki Miller, a social worker in the newly built Haredi town of Kiryat Sefer near Jerusalem. "The Haredi believe that a closed society is a pure society," she says. But a closed society can hide a multitude of sins. A senior police officer in Jerusalem acknowledges that the instincts of the Haredi community to cover up such crimes undermines the authorities' ability to investigate and prosecute offenders: "We're aware of this phenomenon of sex abuse among Haredis, but an extremely low number of these cases are ever reported."

The first port of call for Haredi families faced with violence or sex crimes is often their rabbi. But religious leaders themselves have not been immune from accusations of abuse. On April 6, a Jerusalem court indicted a Haredi mother of eight for child abuse in light of evidence that she broke her two toddlers' bones with hammers, forced the children to eat feces, and locked them inside a suitcase for hours. The alleged abuses came to light only after her three-year-old son was taken to hospital in a coma with brain damage. The woman claimed she was driving "devils" from her children following instructions from her religious counselor Elior Chen, who has since fled to Canada. Israeli police are seeking his extradition.

In Beit Shemesh, a town near Jerusalem, another case of abuse centered on a self-styled female "rabbi" who hid her face entirely behind a black veil. Her religious modesty attracted dozens of Haredi female disciples over several years, but her own sister was frantically seeking police intervention to stop the woman from thrashing her children with a rolling pin. Neighbors say she allegedly left her kids tied for hours to a garden tree. After her arrest, one of her children, now an adult, told police that his mother had encouraged incest among her offspring when they were younger.

The majority of ultra-orthodox families are orderly and loving, but for some mothers, the stress of raising an average of seven to eight children while holding down a job is too much to handle. Haredi men place a higher value on spiritual learning than on money or possessions; devout husbands, who wear black hats and long-tailed coats modeled on those of 18th century Polish noblemen, are expected only to study. And when they are abusive, their wives often cover up to preserve the family's honor. Says Ragen: "You hear the Haredi women say: 'I took the stain on me so that my husband could be as white as snow.' "

Social workers at Jerusalem's shelter for battered Haredi women say that family violence often erupts during the ritual Shabbat dinner, when all children are gathered — tempers flare over mundane arguments and the husband strikes his wife. A wife may endure such treatment for years. But the number of women who call a 24-hour hotline for battered Haredi women has jumped from 477 calls in 2004 to 1,402 last year. Social workers attribute the increase to a new generation of rabbis urging women to speak out against domestic violence.

Yet many Jewish feminists say that women are more repressed than ever inside Israel's Haredi community. Anat Zuria, a respected filmmaker who focuses on the Haredim, says that many Haredi now believe that, according to Biblical prophecy, Judgment Day is fast approaching. "The Haredi are becoming more Messianic, and they believe the Messiah will only come if there's purity and modesty among women," she says. To that end, boys and girls are segregated early on. "Everything about sexuality is unmentionable," says Zuria. "There's no Internet, no TV, no books, but you can't kill off the erotic impulse." Author Ragen concurs: "All of these taboos don't necessarily make them saints. Sometimes they become perverts."

That realization is sinking in with some socially conscious rabbis. In Febuary, Rabbi Meir Kessler from Kiryat Sefer called two late-night meetings in which 3,000 parents were urged to warn their children that even men in beards and hats are capable of evil. The rabbi's candid sermon has stirred debate among the shuttered Haredim. One stunned participant told reporters that "not since Moses" had a rabbi spoken publicly on such forbidden sexual topics. The spate of abuse cases prompted Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yona Metzger, to call on his fellow religious leaders "to vomit these parents and rabbis out of the camp and do everything in our power to save the souls of these young children."

More openness is the only way to catch offenders and root out the culture that permits them to operate. Teachers in some Haredi primary schools and yeshivas are now taught how to recognize such telltale sights of abuse as sudden moodiness or aggression, injuries or indecent behavior towards other students. In early spring, a teacher in the southern town of Nativot caught one child sexually accosting another. Social workers investigated and found that the boy's mother said she had sex with her child as a way to "punish" her husband for having left her.

It's hard to find positives in such stories. Yet it is better that they come to light than that they remain the dark secret of the Haredi. In Bnei Brak, police say one rapist in ultra-orthodox garb is stalking preteen girls, cornering them in dark hallways or in parks. It took weeks before religious elders alerted the police to the sexual predator, who has yet to be caught. But authorities say it is a sign of changing times that the Haredi children, and their parents, did not endure these crimes in silence.

Is Child Abuse On the Decline? By Laura Blue

The number of maltreated children in the U.S. has fallen steadily in the last two decades, according to a report this week from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Overall, physical-abuse cases per capita fell 3% between and 2007 and 2008 (the most recent year for which stats are available). Meanwhile sexual abuse fell by 6%, the report says. These figures continue long-term downward trends in the rate of physical and sexual abuse nationwide -- with most states reporting cumulative drops of over 50% since 1992 -- although neglect cases per capita seem to have remained fairly stable.

Sound too good to be true? All of that data comes from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which began compiling the stats in 1990 from states' child-protection agencies. The numbers are based on "substantiated" abuse cases only -- where substantiated means that the cases were reported to a child-protection agency and investigated, and that the agency then found "a preponderance of evidence" to suggest maltreatment. But while it may sound as if the trend could be just a trick of the data then -- states could have simply decided to investigate fewer cases over time, for example -- the new report argues that the decline in abuse is very real. A separate study found similar declines in child abuse using different methods, according to the report: Researchers conducting the recent National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect talked to workers in schools, hospitals and day cares about abuse, without looking at state investigations at all. And victim self-reports show the same pattern too, with declines in the number of children reporting physical and sexual abuse throughout the 1990s and 2000s. It would appear, then, that the good news is genuine. There really is less child abuse than there used to be.

The report states:

There is currently no consensus in the child maltreatment field about why sexual abuse and physical abuse have declined so substantially, although a recent article and book suggest some possible factors (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006; Finkelhor, 2008). The period when sexual and physical abuse started the dramatic downward trend was marked by sustained economic improvement, increases in the numbers of law enforcement and child protection personnel, more aggressive prosecution and incarceration policies, growing public awareness about the problems, and the dissemination of new treatment options for family and mental health problems, including new psychiatric medication. While some have suggested community notification laws as a possible explanatory factor, the passage and implementation of these laws actually occurred well after the sexual abuse decline was underway.

Over the same 1990 - 2008 period, however, the number of neglect cases per capita has barely budged. The report suggests that this may be the case because neglect "has not been the subject of the same level of policy attention and public awareness as sexual and physical abuse."

Erin's Law: When the Abuser Is No Stranger Read more:,8599,2022124,00.html#ixzz1cwAyfHYM

Throughout her school years, Erin Merryn of Schaumburg, Ill., received plenty of lessons in the dangers her elders thought she could encounter during her childhood. She was taught how to ride out a tornado, instructed in the eight steps for turning down illegal drugs, and told how to react to a friendly stranger who might try to abduct her. But nothing prepared her for two traumatizing events that have turned Merryn, now 25, into an activist, determined to prevent the same thing from happening to other children.

The first episode began on a warm May night in 1991. Merryn, then 6, was excited about her first sleepover with her kindergarten classmate Ashley. After an evening of playing with Ashley's dollhouse and watching The Little Mermaid, the girls went to bed in Ashley's room. Merryn lay on blankets on the floor next to Ashley, who was in her bed. In the wee hours of the night, Ashley's uncle "Richard" (not his real name), who lived in the house with his niece, appeared in the darkened room. He sat down in front of Merryn and put his finger to his lips signaling her to remain quiet. Seconds later his hand was down her pants. Merryn was as bewildered as she was frightened. "I didn't understand what was going on," she says. "I just stared at the ceiling waiting for it to end." Her friend slept through the assault, and Merryn remained silent. (Read why most child abuse goes unreported)

Merryn kept her confusion to herself. She didn't want to stop visiting her friend but tried to find times when Richard wasn't around. She wasn't always successful. The man, then in his late 20s, abused her several more times in the next year, including, she says, raping her during a daytime visit when she thought he wouldn't be home.

When Merryn eventually confided in Ashley about what had happened, her friend was not surprised; in fact, the scene was depressingly familiar to her. But Ashley begged her not to say anything because Richard had told her they would "lose the house" if the girls told anyone. Says Merryn: "[Ashley] made me pinky promise not to say anything."

Merryn's family, including her two sisters, moved to another neighborhood in the same town when Merryn was 8, and she stopped seeing Ashley. But at age 11, Merryn's second nightmare began. At a family gathering at her grandparents' lake house, she awoke in the middle of the night to find her cousin "Brian" (again, not his real name), then 13, lying next to her with his hands down her underwear. He continued to abuse her on and off for nearly two years, she says, often at holidays and celebrations with her close-knit extended family. He cornered her in basements, bathrooms and bedrooms, always reminding her that she shouldn't bother telling anyone because no one would believe her. It ended only after a chance conversation between Merryn and one of her sisters, who blurted out one day that their cousin Brian was "gross." Merryn realized he had been molesting her sister too. They talked for hours about what had happened, and the next day told their parents about their shared horror.

The family pressed charges against Brian, who ultimately admitted to three counts of sexual abuse. The case never went to trial, and Brian received some counseling, but no punishment. The two families have ceased having contact.

Merryn's experiences belie the more common parental fears of "stranger danger." Young children tend to hear a lot of messages about avoiding interactions with people they don't know, when in reality they are far more likely to face harm from a relative or family friend. Victims of abuse know their perpetrators 80% to 90% of the time, says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

For a long time, Merryn didn't know what to do with her anger and fear as an abused child. She spent one afternoon at a park breaking discarded bottles. She didn't tell any adults what had happened to her. "I didn't realize that what had happened wasn't my fault. I didn't know the difference between a safe and an unsafe secret," Merryn says. Later, she helped herself heal by writing two books about her experiences (Stolen Innocence and Living for Today).

Now she is moving into political action. Earlier this year, Merryn reached out to Illinois legislators about the need for schools to adopt age-appropriate curriculum on child sexual abuse. Republican state senator Tim Bivins championed what became known as "Erin's Law," which passed the state senate unanimously. The legislation, which is expected to be taken up by the House in November, would create a task force to devise strategies for reducing child sexual abuse throughout the state and permit school boards to implement similar measures. The aim is to bring into the classroom (for students from pre-K through fifth grade) what is seldom discussed openly: that even trusted family members and friends can pose a threat to their well-being. Teachers would also be trained to recognize warning signs that their students have been sexually abused, including mood swings or acting distant at odd times, and be able to tell students where to go for assistance if they have been victimized.

A poised and charismatic speaker, Merryn has traveled the country making speeches to law-enforcement and abuse-prevention groups. And she will soon tell her story on Oprah, which she hopes will give her effort the jolt it needs to become a nationwide movement.

Erin's Law would not be the first statewide effort to tackle this issue. Ohio and New Jersey have statewide mandates to implement abuse-prevention programs in their schools, according to Finkelhor, and Texas passed a similar prevention measure in 2009. The problem, Finkelhor says, is getting schools to focus on the issue at a time when resources are limited and their priorities are on beefing up academic programs — which has put ancillary efforts such as anti-bullying and mental-health issues on the back burner. "I don't think schools would be resistant to the idea that this prevention is needed," he says. "But there are so many other demands on them these days." Nor are they likely to have the resources to provide the kind of intensive curriculum that is necessary. A guest speaker for 45 minutes wouldn't be very helpful, says Finkelhor: "The best programs are very intensive and expensive."(Read about a child abuse case in Vietnam.)

The attention on sexual abuse of children in recent years, along with increases in the numbers of law-enforcement and child-protection personnel, has made an impact. According to Finkelhor, national child maltreatment data show that the rate of sex abuse against children under 18 declined 58% between 1992 and 2008, when the number of substantiated cases was reported to be a still disturbing 68,500. As Finkelhor notes, "It's still a major source of trauma and long-term dysfunction in children."

Merryn, who got a master's degree in social work, focusing on sexual-abuse prevention, is determined to keep up her campaign to make her cause a national movement. "I don't want parents to think they need to put a bubble around their kids 24/7," she says. "We need to give kids the knowledge and tools they need to come forward when something happens. I had my innocence taken. I don't want it to happen to anyone else."

Read more:,8599,2022124,00.html#ixzz1cwEcffva

Thursday, 17 March 2011

'World's largest paedophile ring' uncovered


16 March 2011 Last updated at 15:27 GMT

International police led by a UK team say they shut down the largest internet paedophile ring yet discovered. 

The global forum had 70,000 followers at its height, leading to 4,000 intelligence reports being sent to police across 30 countries.

The operation has so far identified 670 suspects and 230 abused children.

Detectives say 184 people have been arrested - 121 of them were in the UK. Some 60 children have been protected in the UK.

The three-year investigation, Operation Rescue, was led by investigators from the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).

Speaking at a news conference at The Hague in the Netherlands, investigators said the network hid behind a legal online forum which operated out of the country - but its members came from around the world.

The international network operated out of the Netherlands

Along with the Netherlands and the UK, suspects have been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand.

The members of the network went into a private channel,, and then used its secret systems to share films and images of abused children, said Rob Wainwright, director of European police agency Europol.

However, child abuse investigators, including a team from Ceop, had already infiltrated the network and were posing as paedophiles to gather intelligence.
In the UK, the 240 suspects include police officers, teachers and a karate teacher. One of the suspects in the UK is a woman.

To date, 33 have been convicted, including John McMurdo, a scout leader from Plymouth. Another forum user was Stephen Palmer, 54, of Birkenhead, who shared abuse images with contacts in the US. A third man, 46-year-old Colin Hoey Brown of Bromsgrove, was jailed for making and distributing almost 1,000 images.

'New ground broken'

Peter Davies, head of Ceop, said: "The scale and success of Operation Rescue has broken new ground.

"Not only is it one of the largest operations of its kind to date - and the biggest operation we have led - it also demonstrates the impact of international law enforcement agencies working together with one single objective, to safeguard children and bring offenders to justice. 

"While these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them.
"Everything they did online, everyone they talked to or anything they shared could and was tracked by following the digital footprint."

Operation Rescue began when Ceop and colleagues in the Australian Federal Police separately identified the site as a key online meeting place for abusers.

The two forces deployed officers to infiltrate the site and to identify the members who were posing the most risk to children.

One of the early breakthroughs in the investigation was the arrest of four suspects in Thailand in 2008. Two of the men were British.

In March of the same year, Ceop identified the owner of the site and the location of its server in the Netherlands. The owner of the server is now co-operating with Dutch police.

Rob Wainwright of Europol said the man running the server had used "advanced security techniques" which took months to break down.

"If you think you can use the internet to abuse children you are wrong," he said.
"We will not allow these offenders to carry on committing these awful crimes against young children. We will not rest until we have identified every offender that has been active in this network and others that might be operating on the internet."


The internet has proved to be fertile territory for people with a sexual interest in children.

Those wishing to explore their feelings or satisfy their urges can spend hours doing so without having to leave their room. Taking advantage of the anonymity modern computer technology provides, paedophiles download and exchange vile images of abuse unaware of the reality of the suffering.

For some years, however, child protection agencies have been on their case. By pretending to be online sex offenders and by using sophisticated computer techniques, they've managed to identify offenders and locate suspect websites. So it was with Operation Rescue.

What marks it out is its global scale. But in UK terms, it still lags behind Operation Ore - an investigation into 7,000 people from Britain whose credit cards were used to access child abuse images on a US website.

[Source: ]