PA Court Bars Retroactive Sex Offender Registration

The state supreme court said sex offenders convicted before a 2012 law was enacted cannot be compelled to adhere to registration protocols required under the law.

Nearly 4,000 crime victims will be affected by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling this week that bars the retroactive extension of registration requirements for sex offenders, reports PennLive.com. State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said her office is reaching out to all of them as it tries to gauge the impact of that ruling, which the divided court issued Wednesday in a Cumberland County case. The majority ruling by Justice Kevin M. Dougherty established that state officials can’t increase the amount of registration time required for sex offenders who were convicted before the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was adopted in 2012.

Several convicted sex offenders had filed legal challenges to retroactive registration orders. Dougherty found that the SORNA requirement that offenders must register with state police is a “punishment” and so cannot be increased retroactively. Storm said her agency is working with its legal teams to determine how the Supreme Court decision will affect 3,929 sex crime victims who receive SORNA notifications for older cases. Victims can call her office at 800-563-6399.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DeVos Hints Policy Change on Campus Sex Assaults

After meetings with stakeholders in the campus sexual assault debate, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she wants to help both victims of assault and those who have been falsely accused of rape. It was a striking departure from the rhetoric of the Obama administration, which has focused primarily on survivors.

After several days of controversy surrounding meetings with stakeholders in the campus sexual assault debate, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she wants to help both victims of assault and those who have been falsely accused of rape. It was a striking departure from the rhetoric of the Obama administration, which has focused primarily on survivors, BuzzFeed News reports. DeVos strongly suggested that she was planning to overhaul the way that the government deals with campus sexual assault, calling the current system of enforcing Title IX broken. “We need to get this right, we need to protect all students, and we need to do this quickly,” DeVos said.

DeVos angered advocates for victims of sexual assault by agreeing to meet with members of a men’s rights group, which argues that men accused of assault are treated unfairly by colleges under the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance. The National Coalition for Men has a history of intimidating victims by publishing the identities of women who they say made false accusations. DeVos said the stories of those falsely accused of rape “are not often told,” adding that in her meetings, “I saw a lot of pain today.” Accused students and their attorneys, who have long insisted the system is failing them, said the fact that DeVos welcomed them to the table was remarkable. DeVos’s civil rights chief, Candice Jackson, stirred outrage when she told the New York Times that “90 percent” of accusations “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” Democratic senators called the remarks “deeply disturbing.” Jackson, herself a sexual assault survivor, apologized, saying her words were “flippant.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

DeVos Reviews Obama Policies on Campus Sex Cases

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is meeting in private today with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials. It is the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of President Obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the handling of sexual violence by universities and colleges.

Hundreds of college students who have been accused of rape or sexual assault have written to the Department of Education protesting the handling of their cases, the New York Times reports. Some had lost scholarships. Some had been expelled. A mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled Candice Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education. On campus after campus, from the University of Virginia to Columbia University, from Duke to Stanford, higher education has been roiled by high-profile cases of sexual assault accusations. Today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is meeting in private with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials. It is the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of President Obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the way universities and colleges handle sexual violence.

How university and college administrations have dealt with campus sexual misconduct charges has become one of the most volatile issues in higher education. Many women say higher education leaders have not taken their trauma seriously. The Obama administration’s response prompted a backlash, not just from the accused and their families but from well-regarded law professors who say new rules went too far. Jackson, who organized today’s sessions, believes investigations under the 1972 law known as Title IX have gone deeply awry. A sexual assault survivor herself, she sees “a red flag that something’s not quite right” — and that the rights of accused students have too often been ignored. Hundreds of cases are still pending, some for years, she said, because investigators were “specifically told to keep looking until you find the violation” on college campuses even after they found none. Her critics deny the charge. As of Monday, the office had 496 open sexual assault cases, and the average length of a case is 703 days.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Plea Deal Could Avoid U.S. Charges in Gymnast Sex Case

Dr. Larry Nassar, former team doctor for USA Gymnastics, is expected to plead guilty today to child porn charges. In return, federal authorities would not prosecute him for sexual exploitation of children.

A plea deal could mean a doctor at the heart of a sexual abuse scandal involving more than 100 girls and women, including top U.S. gymnasts, won’t face federal criminal charges in those cases, NPR reports. Dr. Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics is expected to plead guilty today in a Grand Rapids, Mi., federal court. Between 2003 and 2016, Nassar knowingly possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography, the plea agreement says. In return for his guilty plea, federal authorities agree not to further prosecute Nassar “for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of children.” That relates to allegations that Nassar molested two minors in his swimming pool in 2015. He also won’t be prosecuted for “interstate/international travel with intent and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places.”

Between 2006 and 2013, Nassar is alleged to have abused elite U.S. gymnasts competing overseas. John Manly, a lawyer for some alleged victims, says the deal would affect about 10 percent of the estimated 119 women who’ve alleged sexual abuse by Nassar, including gymnasts who competed in the Olympics and other major sports competitions. “The message the federal government is sending … is either it didn’t happen or it doesn’t matter. In my view that’s a breach of faith with our athletes,” Manly says.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Backpage.com Solicited, Created Sex-Related Ads

Documents obtained by the Washington Post show that Backpage hired a company in the Philippines to lure advertisers — and customers seeking sex — from sites run by its competitors. Backpage repeatedly has insisted it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site.

A contractor for the controversial classifieds website Backpage.com has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage’s repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site, according to a trove of newly discovered documents, the Washington Post reports. The documents show that Backpage hired a company in the Philippines to lure advertisers — and customers seeking sex — from sites run by its competitors. The spreadsheets, emails, audio files and employee manuals were revealed in an unrelated legal dispute. Workers in the Philippine call center scoured the Internet for newly listed sex ads, then contacted the people who posted them and offered a free ad on Backpage.com, the documents show. The contractor’s workers even created each new ad so it could be activated with one click.

Workers created phony sex ads, offering “fresh young sweet simple girl” or “Little Angel Seeks Daddy,” adding photos of barely clad women and explicit sex patter. The workers posted the ads on competitors’ websites. When a potential customer expressed interest, an email directed that person to Backpage.com, where they would find authentic ads. For years, Backpage executives have denied claims made by members of Congress, state attorneys general, law enforcement and sex-abuse victims that the site has facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking. Backpage argues it is a passive carrier of “third-party content” and has no control of sex-related ads posted by pimps, prostitutes and even organized trafficking rings. The discovery could be a turning point in the years-long campaign by anti-human trafficking groups, and Congress, to persuade Backpage to stop hosting prostitution ads, which many teenage girls have claimed were used to sell them for sexual exploitation.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Child Trafficking: The Tragedy of ‘Princess’

Even when information about online trafficking victims is brought to the attention of law enforcement, they can still be treated as “disposable people” by the system meant to protect them, says a trafficking expert.

Child sex trafficking is a clandestine crime that has increasingly moved off the streets and online over the last decade. However, even when information about these crimes is brought to the attention of law enforcement, victims can still be treated as “disposable people” by the system meant to protect them.

In recent years, law enforcement has become more aware of how social media is used by sex traffickers to target, groom, and recruit victims. Stories about sex trafficking through Facebook and Instagram, dating websites like OkCupid and Tinder, and apps like Kik messenger and SnapChat are becoming increasingly common.

However, as the following story suggests, there is little awareness of how these social media platforms can be used to identify victims, much less what happens to these victims post- “rescue.”

On May 29, 2017, Sandra Sparks, Executive Director of ERASE Child Trafficking, was tagged in an anonymous tip on her organization’s Facebook page about an “underage runaway” in Louisiana who was seen having sex with an “old man” in his truck. She was linked to the girl’s social media account.

“PLEASE alert authorities,” a subsequent post appealed. “There is an underage runaway being trafficked.”

After visiting the social media account, Sparks discovered that the 16-year-old girl, whom I will refer to by the pseudonym “Princess,” had been trafficked for months, despite being previously rescued and returned to her family.

The girl’s social media account, which chronicles her life being trafficked, ballooned with over 60,000 followers in a little over a month.

She told them in one post:

If it wasn’t for u guys I’d b dead I’m not even suicidal anymore.

When they weren’t looking, “Princess” took pictures and videos of her traffickers and posted them for her followers to see. She wrote:

If my pimp saw my page he would literally grab his pistol and shot (sic) me… I do it in secret.

She claims that one of the men pimping her is wanted for gun offenses, and another has multiple warrants out for his arrest. In one of her pictures, “Princess” is shown holding an AK-47 and in several others she appears to be snapping images as the traffickers physically abuse her.

She captioned one image, “Pray for me.”

“Princess” also secretly takes pictures of the men who pay for sex with her. One of them is a truck driver who she calls “Santa.” The old, white, man has a long white beard and white hair, with an oversized frame. There are several pictures of “Princess” in a black bra lying next to a shirtless “Santa.”

She claims that he gave her $100 after their sexual encounter, but her pimp took the money away.

Another one of the men who pays for sex with “Princess,” she nicknamed “Bill Cosby” because of his resemblance. The man, who is also a truck driver, is shown on video asking “Princess” for directions to a motel room. Later, she posted pictures and video of the same man laying on a motel bed, rolling and smoking a joint.

In many of the videos “Princess” appears to be happy and smiling, despite living in a roach-infested room and sleeping on a mattress with no sheets or on a towel on a bathroom floor. She is told to have sex with multiple older men per night, while her pimps collect the money.

But she claims there is nowhere for her to escape to.

In one of her videos, she said:

A lot of people are telling me that I should just leave this situation. A lot of people don’t realize I don’t really have a choice, because I ain’t got nowhere else to stay. So if I get up and I leave right now and say, ‘I ain’t coming back, I’m not working for you,’ I won’t have nowhere to sleep and ya’ll don’t understand that.”

“Princess” told her followers that her mom died when she was only 13 years old and her life has been hell ever since. She also reveals that her dad is a pastor in New Orleans.

Some of the videos are extremely sexually explicit, taken mid-coitus with the men raping her for money. The posts prompt mixed reactions from her followers. Some encourage her to continue the pornographic exploits, while others urge her to find a pimp to take better care of her by feeding her properly, as well as providing her with clothes that fit and an appropriate residence.

Some try to convince her to go back home or to a homeless shelter, so that she can leave the sexual exploitation she is facing.

Upon learning of this sex-trafficking situation, Sandra Sparks immediately alerted both state and federal law enforcement. However, the girl’s social media posts continue.

Although some agencies are trying to use the information contained in her posts to help locate “Princess” and bring the men exploiting her to justice, past rescues have failed to provide the girl with trauma-informed services. Instead, she tells her followers that previous rescue attempts left her jailed and then returned to the same living situation that she ran away from.

There is no guarantee if—or when—“Princess” will be found.

She has already been erroneously criminalized and hasn’t received appropriate services, which is unfathomable considering that “Princess” is a sex-trafficked minor, but her experience is not uncommon.

In order to better combat sex trafficking, law enforcement must be given the resources—and the support—to swiftly intervene in these situations and connect sex-trafficking survivors like “Princess” with long-term, trauma-informed care by trained service providers.

Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco

Websites and social media services can be used as a catalyst for sex-trafficking victim identification and rescue, but this is meaningless if there isn’t expeditious and appropriate response.

Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco holds a Ph.D. in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University, with an expertise in human trafficking. She currently serves as a human trafficking expert witness for criminal cases and her book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” will be published by Praeger/ABC-Clio this year. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

MO High Court OK’s Holding Sex Offenders Indefinitely

The judges unanimously upheld a state law that prisoners deemed dangerous can be held at a secure mental health facility after completion of their criminal sentences.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a state law allowing two sex offenders to be committed indefinitely to mental institutions after prison is constitutional, the Associated Press reports. The judges ruled 6-0 yesterday that two men were constitutionally committed and reaffirmed the law. A public defender argued that their commitments were punitive, meant lifetime confinement, and amounted to second punishments after they already served time in prison. However, the judges said that “this entire collection of arguments has been rejected in the past.”

The law at issue says that if prisoners have a “mental abnormality” making them act out in a sexually violent way, they should be evaluated before they leave prison. If a team of Department of Corrections and Department of Mental Health experts determine the prisoners still are dangerous, a judge can commit the offenders to a secure mental health facility after completion of their criminal sentences. People committed as sexually violent predators can’t leave the mental health facility until they are reviewed and deemed safe to be released. Missouri’s sexually violent predator law came under fire in recent years because nobody was being released from the state’s sex offender rehabilitation and treatment facilities.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Alito’s Outdated Opinion on Sex Offenders ‘Quite Misleading’

The Washington Post says that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s concurring opinion this week in a sex-crime case “reflects a common misrepresentation of sex offender recidivism.” Alito wrote that sex offenders “are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault.” The case involved a registered sex offender in North Carolina who was arrested for posting his photo on Facebook, a violation of a 2008 state law banning convicted […]

The Washington Post says that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s concurring opinion this week in a sex-crime case “reflects a common misrepresentation of sex offender recidivism.” Alito wrote that sex offenders “are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault.” The case involved a registered sex offender in North Carolina who was arrested for posting his photo on Facebook, a violation of a 2008 state law banning convicted sex offenders from accessing websites where minors can sign up. The court ruled the arrest was a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The Post says Alito’s reference to sex offender rearrest trends is “quite misleading.” In fact, federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data suggests that only those convicted of homicide have a lower rate of rearrest for the same crime (within five years of release) than sex offenders. The BJS rearrest figures for violent crimes: homicide, 2.1 percent; rape or sexual assault, 5.6 percent; robbery, 13.1 percent, and assault, 34.4. The figures were even higher for some nonviolent crimes–auto theft and larceny, 41.4 percent, and drugs, 51.2 percent. The Post concludes that Alito used outdated data going back to the 1980s.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Disputed Alabama Rape Allegation Leads to Suicide

University of Alabama student Megan Rondini, 20, complained that she was treated as a criminal after reporting that a prominent local man had raped her. After months of anxiety, she killed herself.

BuzzFeed explores the troubling case of Megan Rondini, an honors student at the University of Alabama who killed herself after reporting to police that she had been raped by an older man from a prominent Tuscaloosa family. The alleged crime occurred in July 2015, when T.J. Bunn Jr., 34, offered 20-year-old Rondini a ride home when he saw her leaving downtown Tuscaloosa alone. Rondini couldn’t remember how she ended up in his white Mercedes and then in his home. But she later told police that she was sober enough to know she didn’t want to have sex with him — and, she said, Bunn should’ve known it, too.

She went a hospital for a forensic exam and met with police after climbing out a window of Bunn’s home. BuzzFeed said Rondini never imagined that she would be cast as a criminal, or that investigators would view Bunn as the true victim. But that’s what happened. Bunn insisted he and Megan had consensual sex. Under Alabama’s archaic rape law, victims must prove they “earnestly” resisted their attackers, and the investigator who interviewed Rondini quickly decided she hadn’t fought back against Bunn — she hadn’t “kicked him or hit him,” he explained. His investigation would conclude that no rape occurred. After months of growing anxiety over the case, Rondini committed suicide in February 2016.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Church of England Admits Collusion in Sex Abuse of Boys

A new report finds that the former archbishop of Canterbury helped shield Peter Ball, a bishop accused of sexually abusing 18 boys and young men from 1977 to 1992. The report concludes, “The church appears to have been most interested in protecting itself.”

A damning new report found that senior figures in the Church of England colluded over a 20-year period with Peter Ball, a disgraced former bishop who sexually abused boys and men, reports the Guardian. “The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward,” said Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury. “This is inexcusable and shocking behavior.” The new independent report released Thursday, titled “An Abuse of Faith,” concluded, “The church appears to have been most interested in protecting itself.”

Ball was jailed in October 2015 for the grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse of 18 vulnerable young men aged 17-25 who had sought spiritual guidance from him between 1977 and 1992. He was released from prison in February after serving 16 months. When Ball was first accused in 1993, a string of senior establishment figures came forward in his support, writing letters to the police and Crown Prosecution Service. The supporters included George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, as well as an unidentified member of the royal family and cabinet ministers. In light of the new report, Welby has asked for Carey, his predecessor, to step down as an honorary assistant bishop.

from https://thecrimereport.org