New York Times. Editorial. August 13, 2014.
As sex abuse attorneys, it can be tough to see the lack of justice for abused children. This New York Times editorial only furthers that point.
While Massachusetts and Hawaii have taken steps forward to extend statue of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims, legislation in New York is still stalled. This editorial calls on Governor Cuomo to step forward to support Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s Child Victims Act which would give child-sexual-abuse victims more time to file both civil and criminal complaints and provide a one-year window for filing expired claims. The editorial clearly statutes that this important legislation “… will continue to languish until Mr. Cuomo, who has been missing in action on the matter and is now seeking re-election, confronts intense lobbying by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church”.
By: Ryan Cohen The Zalkin Law Firm
At the Zalkin Law Firm, we represent victims of childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, campus sexual assault and those who have suffered other personal injuries. While childhood sexual abuse dominates the headlines, there is a disturbing trend in schools across the country where children with disabilities such as Autism, are being subjected to abuse and mistreatment. And unfortunately, parents have few options but the legal system to seek justice or restitution for these cases of physical and mental abuse of their children.
In Georgia, a thirteen year-old boy, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is confined to an eight by eight foot sized room containing only a small window covered by a metal grate. Over a twenty-nine day period, he is secluded there nineteen times at an average of ninety-four minutes a visit. The last time, he can be heard screaming and hitting the door for the first fifteen minutes until, eventually, silence. Sometime later the door is opened to reveal he committed suicide.
Unfortunately, this tragedy in Georgia is not an anomaly. In Florida, a child diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a disability affecting physical and mental development, is restrained eighty-nine times over fourteen months. His special needs are exacerbated by his trauma, keeping him from effectively communicating his pain to his parents. His regressive behaviors eventually lead to admission to a psychiatric facility and a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Connecticut, children with various disabilities are secluded in what parents deem “scream closets” requiring urine to be cleaned off floors and blood to be cleaned off concrete walls where several children repeatedly banged their heads. In Arizona, a second grader is restrained with duct tape for sharpening her pencil too frequently. In Kentucky, a nine year-old with autism is restrained in a duffel bag as punishment. In Minnesota, an eight year-old girl with special needs is secluded forty four times in a year. In New York, a teenager with disabilities dies after being restrained facedown by at least four adults for allegedly failing to leave a basketball court.
While each incident described above is unquestionably concerning, they are perhaps more so when considered with the following: each happened while the child was at school. Unfortunately, restraint and seclusion are alarmingly prevalent in school districts throughout the United States as a means to educate children with special needs. Also troubling is the current state of the law not only presents little opportunity for recourse to their families, but little incentive to school districts to fix their existing policies and procedures.
Congress highlights this issue in a February 2014 report drafted by the United States Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) entitled Dangerous Use of Seclusion and Restraints in Schools Remains Widespread and Difficult to Remedy: A Review of Ten Cases. The statistics cited in the report are staggering. Despite no evidence that physical restraint or seclusion of children provides any educational or therapeutic benefit, the United States Department of Education cited at least 66,000 documented incidents during the 2009-2010 school year. The report estimates these numbers to be inaccurate and low due to rampant under reporting of such incidents in schools and considering 15% of school districts failed to report any data whatsoever. Further, several of the most populated school districts, including Los Angeles and New York, suspiciously reported no incidents of seclusion or restraint.
Further, the harm to children subjected to these techniques is palpable. The Senate Report references studies by various child advocacy agencies including the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. The studies indicate that even when the child suffers no physical injury, they remain severely traumatized. Effects include nightmares, anxiety, mistrust of adults, anger, depression, delusion and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Despite undeniable injury, the current state of the law presents several challenges to parents seeking relief. Only eighteen states currently require parents be notified of restraints or seclusions. Once parents do find out, obtaining concrete information proves very difficult. Per the report, teachers often closely follow a code of silence regarding any investigation into these abuses. Incidents are sometimes not even included in individualized education plan (IEP) reports. School districts regularly refuse to provide documents that otherwise end up destroyed or missing. Teaching aides and other witnesses refuse to come forward for fear of professional retribution.
Further, while federal laws restrict use of restraint and seclusion in juvenile justice facilities and mental health facilities, no such federal laws specifically prohibit this conduct in schools. This legal uncertainty makes relief through the courts often difficult, even requiring some cases to meet the very high and subjective standard that the school district's conduct shocks the conscience. This standard often proves insurmountable and such cases are frequently dismissed before trial. Further, claims can be barred altogether should parents fail to first exhaust all administrative remedies as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) prior to filing a civil action. This leaves parents with few options; unwilling to continue to subject their child to traumatic abuse but unable to pay for private specialized education.
The Senate Report reaches several conclusions in an attempt to pass comprehensive federal legislation regarding restraint and seclusion in schools. First, use of restraints must be limited to emergency situations only. Second, accurate data regarding the use of seclusion and restraint must be collected and reported to local, state and federal agencies annually. Third, all teachers and administrators must receive specialized training in alternate methods of preventative programming and positive interactions. Fourth, any incident must be documented and reported to parents within twenty-four hours. Fifth, seclusion or restraint should never be listed as an acceptable tool as part of an IEP. Lastly, the requirement that parents exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA prior to seeking civil relief should end. These recommendations appear to be appropriate steps to begin suitably addressing this issue.
The silence of the thirteen year-old boy from Georgia reverberates throughout our education and legal systems. The same silence exists when teachers follow the all too known code of silence while such allegations are investigated. It permeates when parents are not informed the day their child has been strapped to the floor or left alone in a cell-like room for hours. It grows when school districts refuse to provide records of such conduct to parents simply seeking information about their child. It is perhaps never louder than a child desperately trying to tell their parent of the abuse, but being unable to do so due to overwhelming trauma or limited cognitive functioning.
It is time for Congress to act and end its silence to ensure our children, especially those with special needs, are never exposed to such callous abuses again.
SAN DIEGO (AP) August 11, 2014.
Nationwide, states are beginning to address the problem of campus sexual assault. This article highlights the legislation being considered in California, SB 967. Sexual abuse attorneys, the Zalkin Law Firm represents victims at several universities.
“Now, as universities around the country that are facing pressure over the handling of rape allegations adopt policies to define consensual sex, California is poised to take it a step further. Lawmakers are considering what would be the first-in-the-nation measure requiring all colleges that receive public funds to set a standard for when “yes means yes.”
CBS8.com, June 12, 2014
Sexual abuse attorney Irwin Zalkin was featured in a CBS 8 story on the additional women who joined the lawsuit against the Rock Church.
SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – Additional women have come forward accusing a director at a sober living program with ties to the Rock Church of sexual battery.
The plaintiff's attorney, Irwin Zalkin, told CBS News 8, an additional seven women have come forward making allegations David Powers touched them inappropriately and sexually harassed them while being treated at ABC Sober Living. Since May a total of 13 women including a former employee accuse Powers of sex-related crimes.
San Diego, California News Station – KFMB Channel 8 – cbs8.com
LA Times. April 28, 2014
The growing problem of campus sexual assault has gained Presidential attention as highlighted in this article. Sexual abuse attorneys the Zalkin Law Firm has successfully represented several victims of campus sexual assault.
Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault, Biden said in a statement Monday night. No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn't exist. … And we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Click to Read Article Here.
Buzzfeed. May 8, 2014
Here is the most in depth article about the lawsuit filed by the sexual abuse attorneys the Zalkin Law Firm regarding sexual abuse at the Rock Church Ministries Drug recovery home in San Diego.
“While Powers statement addresses only allegations from this girl, Peyton was joined by five other women in a sexual harassment and battery lawsuit filed Thursday by the Zalkin Law Firm, a San Diego-based group of attorneys specializing in sexual abuse cases. In advance of the filing, Peyton and one other plaintiff told BuzzFeed they believed Powers tried to normalize his sexually charged behavior, making vulnerable women feel indebted to him for his financial and spiritual guidance toward sobriety, then taking advantage of that debt.”
NBC 7 San Diego. May 8, 2014
NBC 7 reports some victims experienced terrible abuse at the Rock Church recovery program - something no sexual abuse lawyer ever wants to hear. Read on for more details:
“A civil suit filed in San Diego Thursday alleges clients of a Rock Church-affiliated recovery program were subjected to groping, sexual comments and intimidation in an atmosphere described by their attorney as a “cesspool of sex”.”
KNSD TV NBC May 7, 2014
As sexual abuse lawyers, we see misconduct in a variety of situations. This KNSD TV report suggests it was even present in the most unfortunate of places - a rehabilitation facility.
Six women claim they suffered sexual misconduct at the hands of a recovery program director
A San Diego-based sexual abuse attorney said he plans to file a civil lawsuit Thursday on behalf of six women who claim they were alleged victims of sexual battery and harassment at a drug and alcohol recovery program the lawsuit says is affiliated with the Rock Church Ministries of San Diego
Face the Nation, April 27, 2014
Sexual abuse lawyers, the Zalkin Law Firm of California and New York represents victims of campus sexual assault, and we support the legislative efforts of many to stop the problem.
‘The Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, which McCaskill chairs, sent a survey to 350 college and university presidents around the country to gauge how the schools handle rapes and sexual assault on campus. She is focusing in particular on how those crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about the services available to them.”
Mainline Media News, April 21, 2014.
Sexual abuse law firm Zalkin supports efforts like this to increase awareness of childhood sexual abuse.
“Eight years after his last abuser pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court, Neulinger is not only telling his story but his is making a documentary about his experiences with the goal of helping other kids. Neulinger, who now lives in Wyoming, is a documentaryfilmmaker and is using Kickstarter to raise funds for his project.”
The Columbus Dispatch, Wednesday March 19, 2014.
There are many tools available only to clergy abuse lawyers. There are many more available to the general public, but one Columbus Dispatch Report suggests some of those tools just aren't being used.
After hearing from numerous victims of sex abuse by priests and seeing about 150 cases involving accusations against leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, the North Royalton Republican struggled to tell his colleagues they should support the bill. A year earlier, the Senate had unanimously approved a version of Spada's bill containing a key provision: a one-year window for victims to file a lawsuit alleging child sex abuse that had occurred as long as 35 years earlier. But the House, under then-Speaker Jon Husted and facing heavy pressure from Catholic leaders, stripped out the one-year window to file a lawsuit and replaced it with a civil registry…
It doesn't surprise me, said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), who was among those in 2006 fighting to keep the one-year window to sue instead of the civil registry. It was never set up to be effective from Day One. It was a diversion to make people feel like something would come of it.”