Super Bowl Prostitution Fears Prompt Effort to Protect Kids in Indiana

Some Indiana lawmakers are scrambling to protect kids from the threat of forced prostitution by adding child trafficking to the state’s list of sex offenses in advance of  Indianapolis hosting next February’s Super Bowl.

Amid all the fanfare and its reputation as a boon to tourism, the Super Bowl has also won some infamy for attracting a sex trade that caters to fans willing to participate in the exploitation of children. From of Terre Haute, Ind.:

Before the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas … Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, described the party-filled event as “one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States.”


Law enforcement in Miami, site of the 2010 Super Bowl, also had concerns that underage prostitutes were brought in from Central America for tourists in town for the game.

Indiana state Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, sponsored legislation this year directing a study committee to look at whether current state law on child solicitation needs to be expanded. She’s received backing in that effort from Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

What’s unusual is that any bill toughening Indiana’s sex-trade laws would have to be passed early in the legislative session, which begins in January. The bill also would have to be written to take effect immediately upon the governor signing it.

Of course, all that’s assuming that the National Football League’s current labor dispute doesn’t continue long enough to cause the Feb. 5 championship game to be cancelled.


Florida County to Detain Kids in Adult Jail

Central Florida’s Polk County has become the first jurisdiction in that state to make plans under a new state law to house juveniles who are awaiting trial in adult jail rather than in a state juvenile detention center, according to, a Winter Haven, Fla., news site.

That change was made possible because Polk Sheriff Grady Judd pushed state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to sponsor a bill in this year’s Florida Legislature that loosens the standards county jails must meet to house juveniles.

The state currently charges counties $237 per day to hold each juvenile in pretrial detention, and that rate is expected to rise later this year. Judd told that the county expects to spend $70-$90 per day per juvenile detainee. He predicts the switch will save the county around $1.5 million.

Previously, juveniles in pretrial detention fell under  state jurisdiction, but the new law would allow counties to retain custody from start to finish.  Under the new legislation, counties no longer have to meet state Department of Juvenile Justice standards, but must adhere to yet-to-be written guidelines set forth by the state’s Model Jail Standards Committee.

County jails that opt to handle juvenile detainees still will have to meet a federal requirement that the juveniles not come into contact with adult detainees.

Currently, Polk County — which includes the small cities of Lakeland and Lake Wales, and has a population of more than 600,000 — houses 40 juveniles who face adult charges in its jail, while 50-60 juveniles who don’t face adult charges are housed in the state regional pretrial detention center.

A challenge for the county will be how to keep juveniles of different ages, genders and offender statuses separate from each other in the jail, so that, for example the youngest, mildest alleged offenders don’t face threats from the older, bigger and more violent detainees.



Teens Face More Consequences from Sexting than Congressmen Do

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner may not have broken any laws by texting lewd photos of himself to younger women he didn’t know.

In many states, however, teens who send pictures of themselves to their own girlfriends or boyfriends can be prosecuted for child pornography.

Allyson Pereira calls that hypocrisy. She should know. She’s spent six years dealing with the consequences of “sexting” one topless image of herself to an ex-boyfriend.

Allyson was 15 at the time, and the boy said he’d date her again if she’d send him the photo. But he was playing her. According to Allyson, he sent the private image to his entire contact list.

For the next three years at Wallkill Valley Regional High School in northern New Jersey, she was bullied and ostracized. Paint cans were thrown in her family’s pool. A tire was rolled down their driveway, smashing a glass door to the house.

“It’s actually made me stronger,” she said in an interview with JJIE, “but there were times when I really was suicidal. If it hadn’t been for my family and one or two friends, I wouldn’t be here today.”

“I can’t even tell you what it was like to live with that,” her mother says. “These kids can be so cruel to each other.”

But Allyson and her family were afraid to report the situation to police because Allyson could have been prosecuted for sending child pornography — of herself.

In an effort to protect children, both Congress and state legislatures have passed tough criminal laws designating the electronic distribution of nude images of teenagers as child pornography and often requiring those convicted of “sexting” to be registered as sex offenders. The problem is that a net thrown by the legal system to catch adults who exploit children is now more effective at ensnaring children.

Most states now require youths who send nude or semi-nude images of minors to be criminally prosecuted. Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among those where teenagers as young as 13 have been prosecuted or convicted for sexting.

One of those teens was Phillip Alpert of Orlando, Fla. At 3:28 in the morning after an argument with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Phillip, who had just turned 18, sent a semi-nude image of the girlfriend to her contact list. Her parents reported his actions to the police, who descended on his house with a search warrant.

Phillip faced 72 charges of various sorts, including the possession and distribution of child pornography. He was kicked out of school and, after pleading guilty, placed on probation for three years.

Most troubling of all, he’ll be listed as a sex offender until he’s 43. In Florida, that means he must tell the state when and where he moves; he can’t live near any schools, parks or playgrounds; and his offender’s status will show up on any Internet search of his name.

Allyson, who’s now 21, met Phillip in February 2010, when the two were the focus of an MTV special, “Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public.” After three years of keeping the abuse she was suffering private (and, to be sure, after she graduated from the high school where much of that bullying was centered), the fate of two girls who’d sent pictures of themselves to boys they liked finally motivated Allyson to go public. Just as in Allyson’s case, the two girls’ photos had been forwarded to others, and the two girls became the objects of brutal teasing.

Then, in June 2008, Jesse Logan, 18, of Cincinnati, Ohio, hanged herself in her room. And in September 2009, 13-year-old Hope Witsell of Ruskin, Fla., stunned the nation by doing the same.

Since deciding to go public in early 2010, Allyson has spoken regularly to school groups about sexting and has made national media appearances. She’s a member of the “street team” for MTV’s “A Thin Line” cyber-bullying project and is at work on a book about sexting.

Along with other advocates, Allyson wants sexting among minors to be decriminalized. She says any softening of the law should apply to minors who distribute others’ images as well as those who send images of themselves.

“All it takes is for you to press ‘send’ and in a millisecond it’s out there and you can’t take it back,” she says. “[Girls] just impulsively send it. They don’t think of the consequences. And the same with the boys who are passing it on. They don’t think about how it might affect the person who’s pictured.”

Both the teens who send images of themselves and the teens who distribute them to others would benefit from counseling more than they would by being designated sex offenders, she said.

Allyson and her mother are doing everything they can to push for a bill currently before the New Jersey state legislature that would decriminalize the first conviction for sexting. New Jersey Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, the bill’s sponsor, stresses that her legislation requires counseling rather than criminal punishment for first-time offenders.

“This is something that can go viral in seconds, so this could ruin a child’s live, and then on top of that they could be considered sex offenders,” she notes.

Lampitt’s bill has worked its way through the state Assembly, which is the New Jersey legislature’s lower chamber. Today, it’s up for consideration in a Senate committee.

Similar legislation is being considered or already have passed in other states. Lawmakers in Weiner’s home state of New York are considering a bill that would give judges the discretion to divert teen sexters to an “educational reform program.”

In Florida, where so many of the most sensational incidents happen to have occurred, this year’s Legislature passed a bill that will decriminalize the first sexting offense by a minor, making it punishable by up to eight hours of community service and a $60 fine. The second incident would be a misdemeanor.

It’s unclear whether the Florida legislation, which takes affect in October, will save from criminal charges the two latest Florida kids to be charged with sexting.

Last week, in Hernando Beach, Fla., the family of a 15-year-old boy reported to police that their son had been threatened by another student. The 15-year-old boy’s girlfriend had sent an image of herself to him. A second boy saw the girl’s image on the other person’s phone, and threatened the 15-year-old boy, according to an affidavit.

But when the family of the 15-year-old boy reported the threat and provided police with a flash card containing the image, police didn’t charge the boy who allegedly threatened their son. They arrested the 15-year-old and his girlfriend.

That’s the kind of case where Allyson Pereira sees hypocrisy. While adult celebrities cast images of themselves all across the Internet, teenagers who show the same poor judgment can be charged with a crime.

“If you look at Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, they can do these things and get away with it,” Allyson said, referring to two celebrities who’ve boosted their careers by sending out lewd images of themselves. “And kids think they can do it and it’s cool. And then they do it, and they can get arrested.”


The Gang Violence That Never Was — Social Media and Bad Journalism in Boston

Law enforcement officials are trying to figure out why supposedly massive fights erupted between teens on a crowded Boston beach over Memorial Day weekend.

Initial reports, from Massachusetts State Police, were that gangs had used Facebook to organize violent gatherings. Then, on Tuesday, Boston’s police commissioner said whatever fights that did break out didn’t seem to have anything to do with gangs. And finally state police started backpedalling their gang violence theory.

Regardless, media outlets were all atwitter with the social media, “gang warfare” angle  — underscoring how sensational media memes can overwhelm any attempt by the public to understand the dynamics of teen violence.

Reports that gangs had something to do with holiday weekend problems at Carson Beach in South Boston first came Monday night from the state police, who have jurisdiction over the beaches even though city police patrol other parts of the city.

“Police said the gang members are part of a group of more than 1,000 youths who have used social media sites like Facebook to plan unruly gatherings on the beach on three of the past four nights,” the Boston Globe reported.

The state police already were being criticized for the way they’d handled the weekend incidents, in particular that they dispersed crowds that allegedly had nothing to do with the fighting. “The dispersal,” the Globe reported, “caused some tense moments between those not involved with the youths and police, who formed a line to herd the crowd south, down William J. Day Boulevard. Some jostled and argued with officers.”

Pretty soon, it seemed as if every website in New England was blaming gangs and social media for the fighting. And even as the counter-story came out — that there was little or no evidence of gang involvement — the gang angle dominated the Internet.

“Teen gangs descend on Boston,” blared one headline in a national parenting magazine.

In an article headlined “Gang wars break out on Memorial Day,” London’s Daily Mail managed to confuse the number of teenagers allegedly present with the number of combatants: “More than 1,000 youths from rival gangs clashed at Carson Beach, Boston.”

At the same time that those stories were zipping around the world, however, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis already was questioning gang involvement.

“It looked like there were three or four different fights breaking out with a lot of people running to see what was going on,’’ he told the Globe. ‘‘We’re looking at the gang angle to see if that was the case but at this point in time we’re questioning that.’’

A local public radio reporter took the radical step of actually asking teens who were there what happened.

“No that’s not true, there’s no gangs,” Amanda Murphy, 17, told the reporter, Bianca Vazquez Toness. Murphy’s friend, Samantha Louis added, “‘Cause I guarantee you, if it was some gang stuff, 30 people would have been dead.”

As it turned out, only one person was arrested and apparently the charges had nothing to do with the fighting.

The evolution of the story could be seen pretty clearly on the website of the tabloid Boston Herald. On Tuesday, the Herald reported state police said the fight “was between rival Boston gangs who numbered between 300 and 400.” But on Wednesday, the Herald reported that a police spokesman said “the fight apparently involved only a few gang members.”

And while state police at first said the gangs had organized on Facebook, the same spokesman later said, “there weren’t a lot of [social media] precursors to [gangs at Carson Beach]. There wasn’t a lot of content that we could pick up that it was about to happen.”

If it turned out to be difficult to find evidence that gangs had organized online to start the trouble at Carson Beach, evidence that gangs had nothing to do with it was hidden in plain view – on Twitter.

“Bro that’s [expletive]. it was no gang fight, I was there RT @SpiffySoles: 1000 teenagers involved in a “Gang Fight” on carson beach,” wrote @LyricalWeez.

“they have carson beach on the news and are saying it was a ‘gang fight’ and people were from ‘rival gangs’ #exaggerated,” wrote @CLAWgod.

Here’s the irony: those Tweets came under an article headlined “Carson Beach Gang Fights spurred by Social Media.”


Atlanta Warns Parents About Their Kids’ Summer Curfew Violations

If it’s 11 p.m. on a weekday and you live in the city of Atlanta, you’d better know where your children are.

In an effort to keep kids safe over the long, hot summer, Mayor Kasim Reed and other city officials announced Tuesday that they plan to enforce the city’s long ignored curfew law.

The curfew law requires children 16 or younger to be at home and supervised by a parent, legal guardian or authorized adult from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

But the big change from previous enforcement threats came in the form of punishment threats  —  for parents. The first violation will result in a warning, city officials announced. A second violation may result in parents getting fined up to $1,000 and spending up to 60 days in jail or conducting community service.

“I want everyone in the city of Atlanta, especially our young people, to enjoy the summer months,” Reed said, with the city’s parks commissioner, police chief and MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott at his side. “At the same time, it is vital that we keep everyone safe. Our parks, pools and recreation centers are safe havens for kids where drugs and gang activity will not be tolerated.”

Along with curfew enforcement, the officials were unveiling a variety of measures as part of the city’s “Summer Safety Initiatives,” including:


  • Patrols of all city parks by uniformed officers 24 hours a day;
  • Visits by officers with parks and recreation managers at city park facilities;

• Checks of city pools by uniformed officers on patrol;

• Property crime details targeting problem areas;

• Distribution of literature for the city’s “See Something, Say Something” program, which encouraged city and county employees to report suspicious activity; and

• Referrals of youth to mentoring programs such as the Police Athletic League, Centers of Hope, Boys & Girls Club, etc.

But curfew enforcement raised the most questions. The city officials promised “curfew patrols at parks, movie theaters, skating rinks, apartment complexes and other places where youth gather; and curfew patrols in partnership with MARTA Police.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported today that then-Mayor Shirley Franklin announced promise of enforcement in 2009  —  except not with the threat to punish parents. And constitutional rights attorney Gerry Weber told the AJC that could leave the city open to federal court challenges.

“The imposition of criminal sanctions on the parents when the wrongdoing is done by the child, that kind of derivative liability has been frowned on by the courts,” he told the paper. “That is a challenge that the city is going to have to face if they try to enforce this.”


“Defending Childhood” Public Service Announcement to Star Attorney General

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s  “Defending Childhood” initiative is taking a higher profile this week with the airing of a public service announcement promoting the effort.

The attorney general launched the initiative in September to address what he called “a national crisis”: the exposure of the American children to violence as both victims and witnesses. A Department of Justice-funded study had concluded that most children have been “exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities. The consequences of this problem are significant and widespread. Children’s exposure to violence, whether as victims or witnesses, is often associated with long-term physical, psychological and emotional harm. Children exposed to violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence.”

The “Defending Childhood” initiative is designed to “prevent exposure to violence, mitigate the negative impacts of exposure when it does occur and develop knowledge and spread awareness about this issue.” As part of that effort, the Obama administration has sought to increase the amount of funding going going to DOJ efforts to address the children’s exposure to violence.

The 30-second PSA is airing on the Investigation Discovery Channel and also can be viewed on YouTube.

According to a DOJ press release:

“A key component of the Defending Childhood initiative is a multi-year demonstration program to develop comprehensive, community-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence in their homes, schools and communities. In 2010, eight planning grants were awarded to begin this process to the City of Boston; the City of Portland, Maine; the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana; the City of Grand Forks, N.D.; the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Board of Commissioners; the Multnomah County, Oreg., Department of Human Services; the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, S.D.; and Shelby County, Tenn.

“Defending Childhood involves collaborative efforts across the Department of Justice and other federal agencies including the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education.  Critical partners outside the federal government include state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, national experts, practitioners and advocates.”


Memo to Wile E. Coyote: Violence Won’t Make Kids Like You

Here’s a conclusion that may surprise you about as much as one of the anvils that Jerry the mouse manages to drop on Tom the cat’s head from time to time: Kids don’t miss violence when it doesn’t appear in their favorite cartoons; what they’re really looking for is action.

That’s the verdict of a study by professors at four universities whose finding’s have been published in the journal Media Psychology.

Assistant Telecommunications Professor Andrew J. Weaver of Indiana University and his colleagues were testing the reason that producers and programmers often give for including violence in kid’s cartoons —  that children want to see it.

“Violence isn’t the attractive component in these cartoons which producers seem to think it is,” Weaver said. “It’s more other things that are often associated with the violence. It’s possible to have those other components, such as action specifically, in non-violent ways. … You don’t have to cram violence into these cartoons to get kids to like them. They’ll like them without the violence, just as much if not more.”

Long a staple of Saturday morning programming, violent cartoons are now more readily available on cable television channels specializing in kids’ programs, as well as on the Internet. According to a press release from Indiana University, some content analyses have found that as many as 70 percent of children’s television shows have violent content.

Researchers at North Carolina State University, Purdue University and the University of Illinois were among Weaver’s co-authors.

“For many producers and media critics, the question is not if children love violence, but rather why children love violence,” the team wrote. “Our goal in this study was to examine children’s liking of violent content while independently manipulating the amount of action, which is often confounded with violence in the existing research.”

From the Indiana University press release:

“The researchers used a sample group of 128 school children, ranging in age from five to 11 and from kindergarten to the fourth grade. There were a nearly equal number of boys and girls. Research assistants showed each child one of four versions of a five-minute animated short created for the study and then led them through a questionnaire. The short was designed to resemble familiar slapstick cartoons. Four different versions of the cartoon were used. Six violent scenes were added to one version, which was carried out by both characters and in response to earlier aggression. Nine action scenes were added to another version. Two other versions had lower amounts of action or violence.”

View a version of the cartoon, in which a character named Eggle tries to steal a painting from a character named Orangehead, here.

Weaver, the father of two young sons, said he was particularly surprised to learn that violent content had an indirectly negative effect on whether boys enjoyed a program.

“There is a lot of talk about boys being more violent and more aggressive, for whatever reason, social or biological, and yet we found that they identified with the characters more when they were non-violent,” he said. “They liked the characters more and they enjoyed the overall cartoon more.”

On the other hand, violence didn’t change the way girls identified with the characters nearly as much.

“They’re not going to identify with what they perceive to be male characters, whether they are violent or not,” Weaver said. “They didn’t prefer the more violent programming. They were just using other cues besides the character’s violent or non-violent behavior to determine how much they enjoyed the show.”

While Weaver says more research is needed, including a closer look at how girls respond to violence in cartoons, he notes that the study published in Media Psychology offers some hints on how cartoons can incorporate action without violence.

“Alternatives could be things related to speed — characters going fast, moving quickly. It was one way that we manipulated action in this study,” he said. “If you can increase action without increasing violence, which clearly is possible as we did it in this study, then you can increase the enjoyment without potential harmful effects that violence can bring.

“This is good news. If producers are willing to work on making cartoons that aren’t violent so much as action packed, they can still capture their target audience better . . . and without the harmful consequences.”



ID Theft Tied to Foster Care System

Imagine getting bills for services you didn’t get when still a teen — and then finding out when you’re 18 that your credit rating is already shot.

This Rhode Island TV station found three kids who went through that brand of identity theft. They shared two other things in common: All went through Rhode Island’s foster care system, and all believe the identity thief was a family member or close friend.

The station says a congressmen, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., plans to introduce legislation in Congress designed to protect potential victims of such crimes.

You’ll find more on WPRI’s investigation here.


Delinquency Prevention is Latest Area to Face Big Cuts

Prevention seems to have become a four-letter word in Washington.

The latest evidence? Last week, the Department of Justice finally announced how much money the states would get through grant programs under the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The numbers are ugly.

Georgia saw its share of the money decline by 28.6 percent, from $3.72 million to $2.66 million. That was a good bit deeper than the nationwide reduction of 17.2 percent, because minimum awards ensured that small states weren’t hit quite as hard.

“This is the first wave of crippling cuts,” Joe Vignati, justice programs coordinator for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in Georgia, wrote in an e-mail. “We will struggle to maintain.”

In Washington for a meeting of juvenile justice specialists (as well as to pick up an award for his work), Vignati said he was spending some time “educating our congressional delegation on these matters.”

But Congress is faced with increasingly difficult budget choices — and most members of the Georgia delegation have committed to reducing the deficit only by cutting spending, while avoiding any tax increases.

The wisp of good news is that the programs overseen by Vignati’s office may have a little breathing room. Last week’s announcements regarded money for federal fiscal year 2011, which is already half over.

“We have alerted our juvenile justice partners and this means that in the coming year we will have to look at awarding fewer juvenile justice grants to local communities,” he wrote. “We anticipate being able to continue current projects at existing levels for the next year. These grant funds will affect our operating as we move into the fall of 2012.”

The grants fund juvenile court projects “designed to provide intervention to juveniles that have come to the attention of the system as well as other projects provided by local government/non-profit agencies that aim to prevent juveniles from engaging in delinquent activities,” Vignati wrote. The cuts mean, “we will have less [money] to provide to courts and other child-serving agencies. Realistically, less services for kids and families mean a greater possibility for increased use of secure detention and greater chance of youth ultimately becoming involved with the adult criminal justice system.”

The delinquency program cuts are only the latest in a series of budget reductions in longstanding programs designed to prevent violence among juveniles. Among the others to face cuts are Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities grants; their disappearance is now rippling through school districts.


Georgia Senate to Confront Fallout Over Court Ruling on Charter Schools

Georgia lawmakers who backed an ill-fated effort to skirt local school systems in setting up charter schools now are faced with a daunting task.

Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled the setup unconstitutional because it diverted local school money to fund schools overseen by a state commission. Legislators already have promised to press for a constitutional amendment that would work around the high court ruling. But there are too many hoops to pass such an amendment before the 2011-12 academic year begins.

So those same lawmakers are now faced with a more pressing challenge: Finding room in other schools for students who were enrolled in the eight existing “commission” charter schools that will now be closed, along with students who were set to attend eight new schools this fall.

To deal with both issues, state Senate Education and Youth Committee Chairman Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, has established a Special Subcommittee on School Choice, which will hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. June 3 in the state Capitol. Millar, a commission charter school supporter, said the panel’s priority will be to ensure that students currently enrolled in the schools will be placed in an appropriate school setting for the next school year.

“We are optimistic that proactive steps taken by this committee will help to protect the valuable education we offer our youth in Georgia,” Millar said in a statement. “By examining short and long-term solutions, we hope to answer the many questions stakeholders have and return confidence to families and students [affected] by this court decision. We encourage our constituents, and those involved, to reach out to us with solutions and ideas on how to overcome this unnecessary barrier and determine the best route for excellence in education across Georgia.”

Among those expected to speak to the special subcommittee are State School Superintendent John Barge and various advocates for charter schools.

While the Supreme Court ruling has had a dramatic impact on the state commission’s  charter schools, more than 150 charter schools established by local school systems were not affected.