Archive for May, 2007

Can Sexual Abuse Cause Brain Injury?

It is strange how looking to help a client with a problem often leads to answers that can help a client with a very different problem.

I was doing some research for a client with a Minor Traumatic Brain when I came across an article in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. The article is titled: Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Neuropsychological and Cognitive Function in College Women

The authors conducted neuropsychological tests on female students, and compared the results to tests conducted on female students who had been victims of sexual abuse.   A strong association was found between the duration of the sexual abuse and memory impairments.  The results of the study indicate that childhood sexual abuse appears to be associated with a constellation of neuropsychological deficits usually found in victims of M.T.B.I.

Those of us that represent victims of abuse often struggle with how to explain the effects of the abuse to a judge or jury.

This study provides us with another tool.

Read the whole article at http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/18/1/45

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Sex Abuser Teacher had “Relationship” with Victim?

Today I saw a story in the Arizona Republic by E. J. Montini commenting on the case of a 26 year (female) teacher charged with sexual abuse of one of her teenage students. The teacher was described by the prosecutor as having a “relationship” with the victim. 

Here’s the full story: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0506montini0506.html 

As an attorney with a special interest in representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse I agree wholeheartedly that there is a double standard with punishment received by female sex abusers. One only has to look at the statement of the judge who sentenced 43 year old teacher Pamela Moore, who was convicted of sexually assaulting one of the 13 year old boys in her class: 

“I really don’t see the harm that was done here, and certainly society doesn’t need to be worried. I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship.”

Can you imagine the howls of outrage from the public if a judge said a male teacher (or a priest) wasn’t a sexual predator because he had “clicked” with a thirteen year old girl?  Sexual abuse of a child is a crime and whether the abuser is male or female the trauma caused by the abuse can destroy a child’s life. 

News Anchor Admits to Being Sexually Abused by Catholic Priest

A recent story on CNN.com caught my attention.  CNN Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts described the abuse he suffered as a teenager at the hands of Father Jeff Toohey.

What struck me was Thomas’s statement about his decision to publicly talk about the abuse he had suffered:

I was scared. I was scared of being so honest and televising this journey.

What would people think? Would I ruin my career? But I came to the conclusion that I will not be scared anymore. I will not be scared of telling the truth because it might be uncomfortable for people to hear.

If this story compels even one person to seek help for being sexually abused, then it is all worth it. All it takes is telling one person. From there, strength grows and you can tell a second person and so on. Then you can finally have control of your life back.

I commend Mr. Thomas for his courage. You can read the whole story here. 

In my practice representing sexual abuse survivors I cannot count the number of times that a survivor has told me that their healing began the first time they disclosed to someone what had happened to them.

  

Child abusers prey on their victims’ fears. Their fears of what family and friends will think of them; their fears that people will not believe them.  Child abusers are able to destroy people’s lives because of a wall of silence. The only thing that can break down that wall is for victims of sexual abuse to tell someone!

Here’s a link to the Government of Canada’s Directory of Services for Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.

15 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse

  1. Listen to your child and believe what they tell you. When your child tells you he or she doesn’t want to be with someone, pay attention!

  2. Participate in your child’s activities and get to know your children’s friends and their parents. 

  3. Get to know the people where children gather in a community like Churches and sports facilities. 

  4. Never leave your child unattended, especially in the car.  

  5. Be open when your child asks questions about sex. Make sure the answers age appropriate. Be alert for any talk that shows premature sexual understanding.

  6. Pay attention to changes in your child’s behavior or attitude.

  7. Pay attention when someone shows what seems to be greater than normal interest in your child.

  8. Make unannounced visits to your child’s babysitter, day care or school. Make certain they will release your child only to you or someone you officially designate.

  9. Check to see if your child’s school includes sex-abuse prevention training.

  10. Let your child express affection on their own terms. Do not insist that your child hug or kiss people.

  11. Pay attention when an adult uses social occasions to focus on befriending your child or taking your child away for private time that seems out of the ordinary.

  12. Do not allow your child to go alone on vacation, drive around or spend the night with anyone that has not proven to be trustworthy.

  13. Do not assume that a person is trustworthy because of their position, title or because they work in a place where children gather.

  14. Trust your instincts.

  15. Pay attention!

Child Sexual Abuse in Canada

Here’s a link to the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, a publication of the Public Health Agency of Canada:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfv-cnivf/familyviolence/html/nfntsxagrsex_e.html

The article contains some frightening facts:

  • The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths. Its report indicates that, among adult Canadians, 53 percent of women and 31 percent of men were sexually abused when they were children.
  • Most offenders are not strangers to their victims. In most cases, they are well known to their victims.
  • Some offenders have abused more than 70 children before any of the victims disclosed the abuse. In cases in which one offender has abused a large number of victims, the abused children are more likely to be male.

The article contains good advice about abuse prevention, support services as well as recommended reading.

Lawsuit against Vatican can proceed

A Kentucky lawsuit filed in federal court in 2004 against the Vatican that alleges that the Vatican covered up known or suspected sexual abuse by American priests recently survived a legal challenge.

Legal counsel for the Vatican made an application to strike out the lawsuit on the grounds of sovereign immunity, which generally protects nations from being sued in the U.S.

In a decision released January 11, 2007 U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II dismissed the Plaintiff’s allegations that the Vatican was negligent in failing to protect children entrusted to the care of Catholic priests.

However, the judge refused to dismiss allegations that the Vatican failed to report incidents of child abuse and failed to warn parishioners that their children would be under the care of known or suspected sexual abusers.

The Kentucky lawsuit is based in part on instructions the Vatican sent in 1962 to every Catholic Bishop in the world commanding them to maintain a policy of “strictest secrecy” when dealing with allegations of sexual abuse against a priest. The document, which was signed under the seal of Pope John XXIII, threatened to excommunicate anyone that violated the Church’s code of secrecy.

Read it here: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Observer/documents/2003/08/16/Criminales.pdf

In May 2001 then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) sent a letter to Bishops confirming that the 1962 code of secrecy remained in effect.

If the Kentucky lawsuit proceeds, it could conceivably lead to the discovery deposition of Pope Benedict XVI , which could prove to be enlightening to say the least.

What has the Vatican been hiding for the last 45 years?

Indian Residential Schools: A Brief History of the Largest Abuse Claim Settlement Ever

Between 1920 and 1996 the Canadian government engaged in a concerted effort to eliminate Native Canadian Aboriginal people through a process of forced assimilation.  Aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in Church run “Residential Schools” where they were prevented from speaking their own language and practising their spiritual beliefs, and horribly mistreated.

By 1995 former Residential School students across the country had filed dozens of individual civil claims for compensation for physical and sexual abuse they suffered in the schools.

In 1996 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples described the Residential School Assimilation process:

“The removal of children from their homes and the denial of their identity through attacks on their language and spiritual beliefs were cruel. But these practices were compounded by the too frequent lack of basic care — the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, medical services and a healthful environment, and the failure to ensure that the children were safe from teachers and staff who abused them physically, sexually and emotionally. In educational terms, too, the schools — day and residential — failed dramatically, with participation rates and grade achievement levels lagging far behind those for non-Aboriginal students.”

Here’s the link to the full Royal Commission Report www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/index_e.html

In 1996 I was retained by Nora Bernard to file a Representative Action on behalf of all of the former students of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia. The claim was the first of it’s kind in Canada to seek compensation for all former students of a Residential School and the first to seek compensation for loss of language and culture. Here’s the link to Arnold Pizzo McKiggan’s webpage for the Shubenacadie claims http://www.apmlawyers.com/irscu.htm

In 1997 my friend and colleage Russ Raikes filed the Cloud class action on behalf of all former students of the Mohawk Institute Residential School and their family members.

In 1998, facing more than a thousand claims from former Residential School students, Canada issued a “Statement of Reconciliation” apologizing for the “tragedy” of the Residential Schools.

In 2000 the number of claims filed against Canada had topped 6,000. 

In 2002 more than 8,000 abuse claims had been filed against Canada. Thompson Rogers filed a National Class Action on behalf of Charles Baxter and Elijah Baxter seeking compensation for all former Indian Residential School students in Canada, and their family members. The Shubenacadie survivors joined the Baxter National Class Action.

By 2004 Canada was facing more than 12,000 Residential School abuse claims. In December 2004 the Ontario Court of Appeal certified the Cloud class action.

In 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada denied Canada’s request for leave to appeal the Cloud decision. In May 2005 Canada appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci to negotiate a “lasting resolution” to the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. Here’s the full text of the announcement http://www.irsr-rqpi.gc.ca/english/news_30_05_05.html

I am proud to have participated in the negotiations with Canada on behalf of the Shubenacadie Survivors as part of the Baxter class action’s negotiating team. Other stakeholders included the Assembly of First Nations, representatives for former students, and Religious organizations that ran the schools. After six months of negotiations the parties reached an Agreement in Principle to compensate former Residential School students and their families.

The settlement includes an immediate fund of 1.9 Billion dollars to compensate all former Residential School students, estimated to be as many as 80,000 people. The settlement also requires Canada to fund an ongoing “Individual Assessment Process” to provide additional compensation for former students who suffered serious physical abuse and sexual abuse. The IAP claims are estimated to require further payments of 3 Billion dollars to Residential School abuse survivors over the next five years. 

So there it is. 80,000 potential claimants. Up to 5 Billion dollars in compensation. The largest abuse claim settlement ever.  But for those children who suffered through Canada’s misguided attempts at assimilation, and the generations that have felt the ripple effects of the harm caused by the schools, it is just the first step in a long process of healing and reconciliation.


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