Bevin, Bye.

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Content Warning: discussion of sexual abuse, sexual predators, and the legal system. No descriptions of sexual acts.

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As one of his final acts as Governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin has taken it upon himself to pardon a convicted child abuser. (LINK) The case is a highly unusual one that hinges upon a retired judge who became convinced of the innocence of the man he once convicted.

In 2001, Paul Donel Hurt was convicted of sexually abusing his six-year-old stepdaughter. The child reported the abuse at the time to her stepmother who contacted police. The child was able to describe in graphic detail what had been done to her.  She also exhibited many of the red flags typically associated with sexual trauma. Her behavior, her knowledge, and her testimony helped a jury convict Hurt of criminal sexual abuse and he was sentenced to life in prison.

The judge who oversaw the case, Stephen Mershon [and no, I’m not giving him an honorific here on purpose], began to correspond with Hurt in prison and eventually became convinced that Hurt was an innocent man.  He then began to communicate with the victim to try to convince her of the same. In 2015, after contact from Mershon, the victim recanted her 2001 testimony, saying that she had not actually been abused by Hurt. Mershon went so far as to assist the victim in writing a letter to a previous Governor asking to pardon her stepfather.  That attempt failed as did Hurt’s many appeals of his conviction.

Even after Mershon’s intervention and the victim’s 2015 recanting of her testimony, judges still refused to overturn Hurt’s conviction. The judicial opinion (LINK here) written at that time states that the victim only recanted her testimony after interference from Mershon and that her recantation was much less compelling and much more inconsistent than her original testimony. The appeals court ruled that Hurt’s conviction should stand.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of Hurt’s guilt, Mershon felt compelled to interfere and Governor Bevin felt compelled to do the same.  When Hurt was released from prison after his pardon, Mershon was the one to pick him up and drive him home.

Now, you might be asking yourself, if the victim recanted, why am I so upset by this? From the outside, this might look like an innocent man finally receiving justice. But as an expert working in the movement to end sexual violence, this case is all too familiar and shows the failings of our society to understand trauma and victimization.  There are a few important lessons we need to learn from this miscarriage of justice:

  1. Children RARELY lie about being sexually abused.  If a child has disclosed abuse to you, believe them.
  2. Children will often feel guilt over loved ones or trusted adults who face consequences for abuse. Given that 90-93% of child abusers are someone the child knows, this guilt is common.  It is not unusual that a child might later recant a disclosure of abuse because they are worried about a loved one.  It is also not uncommon that community members or family will make that child feel guilty if they are not very careful about consistently reminding the child that the abuse and the consequences the adult is facing are not their fault. Children who feel guilty will often recant abuse, even years later, to try to safe a loved one or a family relationship.
  3. Trauma is confusing and those with power should be mindful that they can alter or impact a victim’s memory by gaslighting them about what really happened.
  4. When we don’t hold offenders accountable, they will continue to abuse.  When we publicly don’t hold offenders accountable, we give the green-light to other abusers that they will not be caught. A pardon like this undermines justice for one young victim and empowers countless other predators who feel secure that they, like Paul Donel Hurt, will not face consequences.

The key is this: when any survivor of abuse tells you about their experience, believe them. That is the most important thing we can do. This is even more important for children who will look to us for how they should feel about what happened to them. Tell children you believe them, tell them it isn’t their fault, and fight like hell to keep them safe.

If you’ve been a victim of child sexual abuse, now or in the past, Safe Passage is here and we will believe you.  Call us 24/7 at 815-756-5228.

 

 

There is no such thing as other people’s children.

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Do we really trust that our children are safe in immigration detention camps?  Do we look at a tent city full of babies and think we’ve done the right thing?  Can we ignore the lifelong trauma our children will face from this enforced separation?  Are we sure our children are being protected from predators and abusers?

There is no such thing as other people’s children.

When we see the allegations of abuse and assault our children are facing, we must be enraged.  We must speak out.  We can’t afford to stay silent.  Our children’s lives are at stake.  Our humanity is at stake.

Contact your representatives.  Call their staff, send letters, show up at their offices.  Donate to organizations like the ACLU that are fighting for our children.  Don’t give up until we know ALL our children are safe.

(Information on what is happening in immigration detention centers for children: ACLU).

CASA

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As we’ve posted previously on our blog, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  We are so grateful for our amazing children’s counselors, our prevention specialists who do education in the schools, and our caseworkers who work tirelessly for parents and children in our care.   We are also incredibly grateful for our community partners who do incredibly important work ensuring the safety and support of at-risk children.  One of those partners, CASA DeKalb County, is guest-blogging today, sharing a personal story about the critical work they do:

My name is Anna*. I am 8 years old. When I was 6, I was living in a motel room with one bed in DeKalb with my mom, her boyfriend and my half-brothers. I slept on the floor. It was cold. My mom and her boyfriend used drugs. They argued a lot.

My CASA advocate came to our motel room. She reported our living conditions to the judge.

I live with a foster family now. I have my own room. I have my first bed. I have my own blanket. I am warm at night.

*Name changed for confidentiality

Anna’s story is one of many that are involved in the juvenile abuse and neglect court every week in DeKalb County. In fact, every 13 hours in DeKalb County there is a new case of child abuse or neglect reported. On average, there are about 200 children who, through no fault of their own, are involved in the juvenile court system each year. Anna and these other children in DeKalb County are victims of child abuse or neglect. CASA works with these children as their voice in court, speaking on behalf of their best interests and making recommendations for the children.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) DeKalb County’s mission is to advocate for and serve as the voice for abused and neglected children. CASA is appointed as the guardian ad litem (GAL) in 100% of cases in the DeKalb County juvenile abuse and neglect court. In the role of GAL, CASA volunteer advocates gather information about the child’s situation and provides that information to the judge so he/she can make informed decisions on behalf of the child. The goal for each case is for the child to be placed in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible, preferably back in their own home when that is safe.

CASA plays a unique role in child abuse prevention, which is especially remembered during the month of April, as it is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Through advocacy in the courtroom, CASA helps ensure that a child is placed in a safe, permanent home where there is less chance of any recurrence of abuse or neglect. CASA advocates monitor a child’s case to verify that parents attend the services they need, such as counseling or parenting classes, to correct the conditions that led to the case to come into court. For children like Anna in the story above, CASA advocates draw attention to unsafe or unhealthy conditions in which a child is living so the judge can place the child in a better home environment. CASA also works in the community to draw attention to child abuse and neglect through speaking engagements with local service clubs and the use of social media and online marketing to spread awareness. This April, CASA is posting “Myth vs. Fact” on their Facebook page to help dismantle some of the common myths regarding child abuse or neglect.

While child abuse prevention is something talked about in the community during the month of April, the children CASA serves live these experiences each and every day. These children need to have their voices and their stories heard. Together as a community we can work to continue speaking up for these children, bringing us closer to a time when all children have the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.

To find out more about CASA and their work with abused and neglected children, visit http://www.casadekalb.org.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

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We’ve been spending a lot of time preparing for April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but did you know it is also Child Abuse Prevention Month?  Read our article in DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle to learn how we are working with our community partners to prevent child abuse and support child survivors. (LINK TO ARTICLE)

Our Erin’s Law education is a critical component of child abuse prevention.  We are in the schools in our county helping kids learn about body safety, body autonomy, and their rights to safe and healthy relationships.

If you’d like to learn more about our services for children and teens, visit our website (www.safepassagedv.org) or call us at 815.756.5228.