What is Stalking and Why is it a Dangerous Crime?

The Fatality Review Annual Report for 2017 addresses misconceptions about stalking and explains why it is a much more dangerous crime, connecting to more deaths of domestic violence victims, than most people realize.

Stalking involves a course of conduct by the perpetrator that is meant to cause fear and uncertainty or an expectation of harm in the victim. It is often an unseen or almost invisible crime, but the danger lurking around the corner or in the shadows is always a sign of trauma and injury to follow.

This course of conduct is also found in civil cases where one party – the aggressor or perpetrator of crimes paying to avoid accountability and block protection for the victim and children involved – uses stalking tactics to destabilize the victim. It is no less of a crime when stalking occurs in the context of a scheme to cause harm during litigation. The intent is provoke the victim into appearing more scared and to the point of looking paranoid than the targeted party would be otherwise. Because stalking can be obscured and sometimes explained away by the perpetrator, the victim may be easily discredited and thereby unable to receive protection. The perpetrator is then free to continue the stalking and harassing behavior. In situations like the one just described, the perpetrator often uses others to stalk and harass by proxy.

This scenario is one seen in many cases reported to My Advocate Center, and it is often the case that professionals being paid by the perpetrator are assisting in the series of crimes by coordinating and covering for the perpetrator. Doing so is profitable because it also helps prolong litigation as the perpetrator will pay to escalate the stress and injury to the victim while avoiding accountability for the criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend in family courts and one that must be addressed now before more lives are lost – including those of the children witnessing this form of domestic or family violence.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Investigating Backpage and Exploitation

Exploitation is one of the worst diseases of all time in our society.

Exploitation isn’t a new disease; acts of abuse in taking advantage of those who are vulnerable, who can be beaten down, held hostage in some manner, used for work, sex, entertainment, experiments, etc., and to increase the perpetrators’ profits have occurred since the beginning of our existence.

It is almost impossible to avoid as it occurs in many forms, so when an investigation such as this one into the website Backpage and the people running it leads to a shutdown, seizure and federal charges, it’s a big win.

Exploitation of others, especially of children, isn’t going to slow down until profit centers collapse and perpetrators are exposed. In my work and throughout this website I explore and report on various forms of exploitation and abuse. I believe it’s important to identify the pressure points in society where vulnerabilities are created or worsened, where families are broken down, parent-child relationships disintegrated and children destabilized to a point that puts them at much greater risk for harm. Families in conflict, especially when children are involved, are ripe for exploitation. It is profitable to take advantage and to use children to increase profits.

Common sense, even without all of the available data, tells us that when you destabilize children, increase uncertainty, take away needed medical and psychological healthcare, traumatize them by denying access to nurturing and safe parents, enable perpetrators of physical and psychological abuse, you are setting our young ones up to fail. You are also creating inventory for those who profit from exploitation of children.

What is Backpage and what is the impact of this investigation?

As seen in Reuters online news:

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. This effort involved multiple states and federal authorities including the FBI, IRS and also the US Postal Service. The website posting said U.S. attorneys in Arizona and California, as well as the Justice Department’s section on child exploitation and obscenity and the California and Texas attorneys general had helped shut down the website.

“Today, Backpage was shutdown. It’s a huge step. Now no child will be sold for sex through this website,” tweeted US Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Heitkamp helped draft legislation passed by the Senate last month that makes it easier for state prosecutors and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep sex trafficking and exploitative materials off their platforms. The bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2.

President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law next week, said Heitkamp. The legislation, featured prominently in the popular Netflix documentary “I am Jane Doe,” amends the Communications Decency Act, which has shielded website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.

“Shutting down the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term,” said Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, an international anti-slavery group that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

There would be “a dramatic shift in the marketplace starting tonight,” Myles added.

This article by Medium explains more about the steps and effort involved to achieve the passage of SESTA and the shutdown of Backpage.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION HERE.

The legislation followed a two-year investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, on which Heitkamp serves, into ads placed on Backpage.com of victims of sex trafficking, including in North Dakota.

The new federal law will empower states to do more to protect those vulnerable to trafficking. The name of the legislation is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

Specifically, SESTA would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitated the crimes against them.
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

Senator Heitkamp emphasized that this legislation is necessary to immediately provide victims an avenue to seek justice for their exploitation – and make sure that companies will be held liable to the fullest extent of the law for profiting from this form of modern-day slavery.

Note: until there is greater liability and consequences for those profiting from all forms of exploitation of children, both online and offline, our children will not be safe. This work at the state and federal level to take down this website and charge the people responsible for facilitating child sex trafficking is a great step; it is already having a powerful impact on the exploitation of minors.

In local Georgia news:

Atlanta news station WSB-TV’s reporter Lauren Pozen interviewed advocate Kasey McClure of 4Sarah.net along with attorney Esther Panitch who is waging battles for victims childhood sexual abuse.

“Lots of companies who host other people, who communicate through them, are really going to be watchful for to see how far this goes because it’s not just an unpopular website like backpage, but will it affect other websites that maybe are kind of on the line,” said Channel 2 legal analyst Esther Panitch.

Advocates for victims of sex trafficking say the takedown  is a step in the right direction.

“More victims started coming forward and saying this is happening to me and I think people started recognizing they had a problem. The issue that is going on with backpage is them being held accountable for basically allowing men to exploit and rape minors,” said advocate Kasey McClure, who founded 4sarah.net.

How does this affect my community, my children?

Backpage.com let users create posts to sell items but it is mostly known for prostitution among adults but also trafficking children.

Channel 2 Action News reported child trafficking as recently as last month in Cobb County where police found prostitutes as young as 14 years old inside a Marietta motel. Teens told police they were forced to create ads on backpage.com.

Children should not be treated as commodities, should not be sold or exploited, ever. They deserve our focus, and need our time and resources to protect them. Do you agree? Contact me here to learn more about what you can do.

Noteworthy Research by My Advocate Center

Studies show that it is routine practice for professionals involved in family conflict to break down relationships between protective parents and children. It is routine practice to engage in psychological abuse of the children and to put them in harm’s way, escalating stress and worsening coping mechanisms.

These children become more vulnerable to addiction and exploitation.

Why is this happening? The answer is multi-faceted but simple:

  • It’s profitable to do so.
  • Family conflict cases create ripe opportunities to increase profits at the expense of victims of abuse and/or fraud.
  • Perpetrators of abuse are motivated to spend more to avoid consequences; they are also often led to break other laws to avoid exposure.
  • Parents who are desperate for protection, including for their children, are easy to destabilize and take advantage of during litigation; trauma is intentionally caused and used to wear them down, using up time and financial resources as well as removing community support from them in the process.
  • Children can be easily isolated or cut off from the protective parent and worn down or brainwashed into not resisting against abuse; during the course of such abuse the children are also often denied the kind of medical and psychological treatment needed to survive and cope with what has happened to them.
  • There is no oversight, let alone accountability, for those exploiting and profiting from this form of child trafficking.
    • Even in cases where child sexual abuse has been confirmed by DFCS or other forensic experts, the result is the withholding of protection and a coverup of the abuse.
    • Even when professionals obtained proof the abuser created and/or possessed child pornography, this evidence did not serve to protect the children.
  • Anyone trying to stand up for their right to protect their children faces attacks to discredit and destabilize them; and may even be denied due process, including being prevented from presenting evidence and testimony in their defense.
  • Children who have asked to be heard are silenced, with some sent out of state and isolated by appointed court professionals such as psychologists acting as “evaluators” of the family conflict concerning the children.
    • Children who are not sent away are still restricted and controlled through the use of certain therapists and/or guardians who serve to control the thought process of abused children, and filter or control the flow of information to and from the children.
    • The professionals in these roles will often also submit false reports to courts, give false testimony to protect the abuser and/or to blame the protective parent.
  • Putting profit over protection is the norm that parents are not warned of before submitting their lives and giving up their rights in our courts

Use this form to report a situation involving any of the above issues. For reports involving child abuse, click here.

Fortunately there are also legislators at the national level who understand this is a major problem;

The mishandling of family conflict by professionals who control and profit from undoing and withholding what children need, including safety and the nurturing care of a safe parent, is a problem that feeds the sexual predation industry and also benefits from it. The two areas of exploitation serve the other and conflict with the key policies and statements set forth in this concurrent resolution in our U.S. Congress.

  • Child Safety must be the first priority in matters of custody litigation, and states should improve how custody cases are adjudicated
  • 15 million children per year are exposed to domestic violence or child abuse, which are often linked
  • Child sexual abuse is significantly under-documented and under-addressed in the legal system
  • Child abuse is a major public health problem with an estimated total cost of $124 billion related to child maltreatment, including physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect, and that is just for one year’s worth of confirmed cases.
  • The CDC’s work on Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACE”) further explains the harmful impact in this resolution
  • Allegations of family violence, child abuse and child sexual abuse are discounted often in litigation
  • Perpetrators of abuse are often given custody of the children. There’s more, but you get the idea.

My parting thought for you is this question:

Is it possible to strengthen families and to better protect children so that we eliminate the vulnerability of children to predators?

Deb Beacham

 

Fatalities in Georgia related to Stalking: Annual Report 2017

Georgia’s Commission on Family Violence and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence provide us each year with an annual report that is more than just stats, it’s a roadmap to saving lives. The 2017 report focuses on stalking and is a must read for all responders and advocates. It’s especially important for victims and family members or friends of victims.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Perpetrator of Domestic Violence Commits Murder-Suicide

A nationwide extradition order for Kelley James McDonald Jr. wasn’t enough to stop him from showing up in Georgia to murder his victim and her sister. Fortunately the three children involved are still alive, but two of the three are hospitalized with injuries including a gunshot wound to the teen girl.

McDonald was on the run for the last two weeks according to local Tampa news sources before locating his target and murdering her and her sister before taking his own life.

Law enforcement is still searching for the driver of a Ford Explorer believed to have traveled with McDonald. The color of the vehicle is described as gold or champagne.

The two year-old child injured at the house during the murders is McDonald’s own child. As is typical of perpetrators of domestic violence, harming what is believed to be his own child was apparently not a concern of McDonald. A sixteen year-old girl was shot and needed surgery.

Lumpkin County Sheriff shared with Georgia news media including WSB-TV that the deaths in north Georgia stemmed from a domestic abuse situation in Florida.

However, it’s important to point out that what occurred in Florida showed clear intent to cause permanent harm. The perpetrator did not just act “in the heat of the moment.” He broke in and attempted murder by strangulation.

Domestic abuse is too generic a term for what escalated into murder in this case. The criminal report specifically state battery by strangulation and burglary with assault/battery.

The AJC reported that the Sheriff is trying to determine how McDonald made it to the home to take their lives. In the meantime, we need to better educate victims and the public on ways to identify the kind of behavior that leads to loss of life. Sometimes there is a weapon involved, like a gun or maybe a knife as in the Kristofak murder in Cobb County after John Kristofak was let out of jail only 7 months into his four year sentence. In other instances the murderous mind uses others in an attempt to keep his hands clean and his reputation intact, such as was the case with Fred Tokars. Sometimes the perpetrator stops just short of murder, leaving the victim severely injured and suffering for a lifetime.

But we know enough about these deviants of society who desire to do harm to their victims, no matter the cost.

McDonald’s victim, the mother of his child, was right to leave the state of Florida and flee to Georgia to shelter with family. Unfortunately, she likely believed that she and her family would be safe from him. He was able to obtain access to another vehicle and show up at the residence of a family member to find and kill her.

In sharing this story, I encourage anyone who is battered by another to take the warnings very seriously. If you are subjected to cruelty and aware that a perpetrator will not hold back on causing you injury just because children are present, this is a solid indicator that greater harm will follow.

When a perpetrator is determined to locate the victim, he or she will likely employ whatever tactics can be managed, whether legal or not.

 

To news media and law enforcement:

This is not just another unfortunate incident or shocking murder story. Please let it be a wake-up call – – call it what it is and don’t soften the descriptives.

When a perpetrator of any form of criminal act involving domestic violence, abuse, cruelty, stalking – whatever label is used – shows you who he is, follow through. Protect the victim and the children. Communicate and engage in ways to keep the victim’s location secured and private.  Deal more harshly at the first sign that the perpetrator is not concerned about accountability.

Let’s not merely be busy or shocked and dismayed, but moved to prevent the next tragedy and loss of life. These children needed their mother to be kept safe. They need what they can no longer have.

We know the warning signs, we have the laws, but do we have the willpower and stamina to stay after those with cruel, destructive mindsets to stop them?

 

Photo courtesy of WSB-TV investigative reporter Mike Petchenik.

 

Georgia Political Update: Victim Protection and Perpetrator Accountability

Many of our citizens believe that protection for victims is the battle cry only heard from the progressive side of the aisle, but in this past legislative session I learned about the role of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and how conservative values drove policy reform efforts to better serve victims of abuse and to improve safety and stability for our citizens.

One of the things that stood out for me is that the Georgia Baptist Mission acknowledged its members have as much to lose as other religious groups from extending statutes of limitations for suing not only sexual predators but also the entities that enabled and/or covered for the predator. In spite of this financial and public exposure risk, the Baptist leadership stated firmly its position to seek better protection for the vulnerable and real accountability for perpetrators of child exploitation.

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a characteristic of one party or another.

It is resoundingly a matter of right versus wrong.

We need more of this form of advocacy, this type of integrity and leadership. We need more people across society to loudly and firmly, “No,” to putting profit over protection. In my work and social engagement, online and offline, I’ll continue to acknowledge and support good work by those on all sides of political, faith, protection and enforcement issues. The more we all pull together and close the divides that exist around this problem, the faster we save lives and stop abuses of all forms.

The topics of predatory behavior, the lack of transparency and accountability for perpetrators, the lack of protection for children and adult victims of abuse, and the extreme difficulty for victims and survivors to recover are ones I’ve been studying, analyzing and reporting on for years. I’ll continue this work far into the future, specifically focused on solutions that both prevent and assist in recovery.

I’m especially grateful to all participating actively and investing in creating change in this area of our society. Thank you for standing up, speaking out, and showing up repeatedly and demonstrating your commitment to improving safety and allowing for recovery.

In this section below, I’ve included an excerpt of the legislative update from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs team:

SEXUAL ABUSE

“On a positive side was legislation like HB 732, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, that increases fines and penalties for pandering and solicitation for sex trafficking. These are the “middle men” who are out there drumming up business for pimps and johns. This legislation is needed to crack down on all who are a part of sexual exploitation of individuals for sex trafficking in our state. See GBC resolution on this issue https://gabaptist.egnyte.com/dl/JTaByb5jS7/RESOLUTION_ON_HUMAN_TRAFFICKING.PDF_ .

Rep. Jason Spencer addresses the topic of sexual predators at a press conference. MIKE GRIFFIN/Index

A bill that caused a sizable amount of controversy had to do with HB 605, The Hidden Predator Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, (https://christianindex.org/children-hidden-predator-act-2018/ ) passed the House by a 170-0 vote. The bill basically allowed the statute of limitations to be extended to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue entities who had covered up child sexual abuse in the past. The bill was severely amended in the Senate. (https://christianindex.org/legislative-update-georgia-hidden-predator-act/ ) It was amended so much that there was very little legal remedy left for those whose statute of limitations had run out for criminal prosecution.  This legislation was introduced in the context of the legal cases regarding the Boy Scouts, The Catholic Church and USA Gymnastics.

Georgia Baptists supported this bill because we felt that it struck a balance in allowing the victims to sue, and the rights of the entities to defend themselves. However, because of the severe amending done by the Senate, the House did not agree with their version. The Senate would not appoint a conference committee and the House would not agree to the changes and the bill, therefore, died. This is a sad outcome for these victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.”

 

Let me know about your involvement in these issues and how I can better support you by contacting me here, and by connecting and engaging on social media.

Thank you,

Deb Beacham

My Advocate Center on Twitter

Facebook Advocacy

 

Protected: Children Traded as Commodities

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Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody

Having visited many courtrooms around the state of Georgia over the last decade, for extended hours observing and studying in clerk’s offices, I can say there is a marked difference between judges who have an eye and ear for filtering out abusive and deceptive tactics, and those who don’t.

This Guide was developed by the NCJFCJ for judges and other officers of the court to use for the specific purpose of enhancing child safety.

Coercive control is one of the key terms identifying the methods used by a parent who is willing to use children to harm the other parent and/or for financial gain. Being a compelling liar often goes hand-in-hand with the ability to effectively coerce a child or parent into complying with demands. Another sign that coercive control is being used is that the controlling parent and counsel are indifferent to the trauma caused to the children and the targeted or victimized parent.

Please download and share the Guide below, and contact the NCJFCJ with questions, and let me know if local case studies might be helpful for your staff. This Guide and the related Trauma-Response documents are equally important for law enforcement, child protective services and all first responders, especially pediatricians and emergency room staff and doctors.

What has largely been missing from those responding to the outcries for help made by parents and children caught in conflict is an understanding of exactly how harmful litigation is for victims of abuse and their children, and what it means when protection is denied.

For this reason, I’ve also included a compelling read on this facet of child safety.

For Abuse Survivors, Custody Remains a Tool for Perpetrators to Retain Control – Pacific Standard by Deb Beacham on Scribd

 

Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Preparing Your Court for a Trauma Consult

Being trauma-informed means asking,

What happened to you and how can we help?

versus

What is wrong with you?

The Trauma Manual for Judges in Family and Juvenile Courts

Informed judicial officers and other court professionals can make an immediate, positive impact on children and parents who are being traumatized by abuse and fraud within their immediate family or through their extended family units.

This applies to schools, churches and to healthcare companies and organizations as well. The kind of stress and trauma that is inflicted in litigation, especially where custody disputes are used as weapons against a victim of domestic abuse or fraud, for example. Any first responder, mandated reporter of abuse or anyone interacting with families and children in a professional capacity should become trauma-informed.

We believe it’s worth spending the extra time learning and discussing these issues with court officials, professionals in other fields, and also with family members in your cases to engage them in the process.

This guide or Trauma Manual as referred to by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will go a long way toward making your courtroom a safer and more constructive path for those who enter your court seeking protection and relief from abuse. [Read the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases to learn to recognize signs that abuse may be concealed from the record.]

NCJFCJ Trauma Manual for Family and Juvenile Court Judges by Deb Beacham on Scribd