2-16-19 US ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick defrocked over abuse claims
A former Roman Catholic cardinal has been defrocked after historical sexual abuse allegations. Theodore McCarrick is the most senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times. US Church officials said allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenager five decades ago were credible. Mr McCarrick, 88, had previously resigned but said he had "no recollection" of the alleged abuse. "No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing." The alleged abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed because of the statute of limitations. (Webmaster's comment: A statue of limitations on sex crimes just encouages the pedaphiles.) Mr McCarrick was the archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006. Since his resignation last year from the College of Cardinals, he has been living in seclusion in a monastery in Kansas. He was the first person to resign as a cardinal since 1927. He is among hundreds of members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children over several decades and his dismissal comes days before the Vatican hosts a summit on preventing child abuse. The Vatican said Pope Francis had ruled Mr McCarrick's expulsion from the clergy as definitive, and would not allow any further appeals against the decision.
2-13-19 Hotels train staff to spot human trafficking
The front line for preventing human trafficking might not be at airports, international borders or in police raids. It might be at the hotel check-in desk. An international hotel chain has completed a two-year project to train half a million staff with the aim of spotting potential victims of trafficking. Marriott's workforce, in almost 7,000 hotels, have completed a process of mandatory training teaching them to look out for warning signs. "Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime," David Rodriguez, the hotel group's chief global human resources officer, said. "There is no easy fix but combating modern-day slavery starts with awareness," Mr Rodriguez said. "And we now have a significant number of people capable of recognising suspicious behaviour and reporting it to management and, in some cases, law enforcement." The type of signs might include "guests with minimal luggage and clothing" and "individuals who can't speak freely or seem disoriented". There might be "guests who insist on little or no housekeeping". Concerns about trafficking for prostitution might be raised by multiple people being escorted to a room one at a time. Staff are taught that while none of these individually might be a sign of trafficking, when there is a "combination of indicators", it might be time to raise concerns with hotel managers. Hotel staff, watching their guests arrive and during their stay, have an unusually close-up view of their behaviour. "In a hotel, our people wouldn't necessarily see a human trafficker visibly restraining a victim," Mr Rodriguez said. But he said workers might recognise a "scenario that is much more nuanced and harder to detect if you don't know what to look for". "That's why helping associates identify the signs of sexual exploitation and forced labour is so important," Mr Rodriguez said. A spokeswoman for Marriott said the training had recently paid off when staff in a central London branch had noticed someone "using the hotel lobby to meet with and groom an under-age girl". Police were contacted and the perpetrator was subsequently jailed.
2-12-19 AI has helped rescue children trafficked for sexual exploitation
One photo of a child in a hotel room can often be the only clue to a trafficked child’s whereabouts. An artificial intelligence is now helping investigators to identify these hotel rooms, leading to the rescue of a number of sexually exploited children. Globally, an estimated 4.8 million people have been forced into sexual exploitation. More than 1 million are under 18. In the US, exploited children often appear pictured in hotel rooms in online adverts. These images are found across dozens of websites as well as on dating apps. Traffickers regularly move location to try to avoid being found. To fight back, Abby Stylianou at George Washington University in Washington DC and colleagues built an AI that attempts to identify hotels from these adverts. It does this by comparing the advert images to a database of more than 1 million photos of 50,000 hotels around the world, including some from travel websites and others sent in by volunteers. To train the AI, the team adjusted some of the images to resemble trafficking photographs by cropping, rotating and altering the colour. They then blacked out parts of the images with silhouettes to resemble a person in the foreground. The images donated by volunteers were particularly useful, says Stylianou. That is because they have similar lighting to those taken by children who are coerced into taking photos of themselves. Regular renovations and hotel chains with identical decor makes the task more difficult, as does the fact that many images the investigators find have much of the background obscured. In tests on images the AI hadn’t previously seen, it identified the correct hotel chain 63 per cent of the time in a top-five list by similarity. However, identifying the specific hotel was more difficult. When producing a list of 100 candidates, the AI only included the correct hotel around 25 per cent of the time.
2-3-19 Why it’s key to identify preschoolers with anxiety and depression
New research shows these kids have mental and physical problems as they grow older. The task was designed to scare the kids. One by one, adults guided children, ranging in age from 3 to 7, into a dimly lit room containing a mysterious covered mound. To build anticipation, the adults intoned, “I have something in here to show you,” or “Let’s be quiet so it doesn’t wake up.” The adult then uncovered the mound — revealed to be a terrarium — and pulled out a realistic looking plastic snake. Throughout the 90-second setup, each child wore a small motion sensor affixed to his or her belt. Those sensors measured the child’s movements, such as when they sped up or twisted around, at 100 times per second. Researchers wanted to see if the movements during a scary situation differed between children diagnosed with depression or anxiety and children without such a diagnosis. It turns out they did. Children with a diagnosis turned further away from the perceived threat — the covered terrarium — than those without a diagnosis. In fact, the sensors could identify very young children who have depression or anxiety about 80 percent of the time, researchers report January 16 in PLOS One. Such a tool could be useful because, even as it’s become widely accepted that children as young as age 3 can suffer from mental health disorders, diagnosis remains difficult. Such children often escape notice because they hold their emotions inside. It’s increasingly clear, though, that these children are at risk of mental and physical health problems later in life, says Lisabeth DiLalla, a developmental psychologist at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Carbondale. “The question is: ‘Can we turn that around?’”
1-31-19 New York school 'strip search' of black girls aged 12 investigated
Allegations that four black 12-year-old girls were strip searched at a school should be investigated at state level, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says. He said the allegations were "deeply disturbing" and raised "serious issues of racial and gender bias". The girls and their parents say the school nurse and assistant principal searched them believing they had drugs. Local education authorities question whether a strip search took place, but have hired a firm to investigate. "Asking a child to remove her clothing - and then commenting on her body - is shaming, humiliating, traumatic sexual harassment," Mr Cuomo said in a statement. "In New York we have zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind," he added on Twitter. The Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, which campaigns for deprived communities, said the girls had been searched after appearing "hyper and giddy" during their lunch hour on 15 January. The group said the girls' parents had not been contacted until after the alleged searches and had not given consent. Local radio station WSKG quoted one of the girls as saying that she had been asked first to pull down her trousers and then to pull down the leggings she had on underneath. "My leggings were tight. And she was like, 'can you pull them down a little bit for me?' So I pulled them down under my knees," the girl said, speaking after a meeting this month between community members and school officials. The mother of one of the girls said her daughter had been detained for more than an hour, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported.
1-18-19 Social media’s effects on girls
Teenagers who spend hours a day on social media are at an increased risk of suffering from poor sleep and symptoms of depression, a new study has found, with girls appearing to be particularly badly affected. The study, based on interviews with almost 11,000 British 14-year-olds, found that, compared with girls who use social media for one to three hours a day, girls who spend at least five hours daily on Instagram, Snapchat, and the like showed a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms. Among boys, the heaviest social media users showed a 35 percent increase in depressive symptoms. Lead author Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, calls the gender disparity an “alarming difference.” The study also found that girls tend to spend more time on social media, reports CNN.com: Two-fifths are on it for at least three hours a day, compared with only one-fifth of boys. Teens who used social media the most tended to report having more problems sleeping, and in turn, the children with the worst sleep were more likely to suffer symptoms of depression. Time spent online was also linked to an increased likelihood of being the victim of cyberbullying; girls were more likely to have experienced such bullying.
1-13-19 When kids think a shooter is coming
When kids think a shooter is coming. Lockdowns have become an ordinary feature of the American school day, said journalists Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox. Even when there’s no violence, children suffer the psychic consequences. Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you OK?” In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her. Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building. The children of DC Prep hid for 20 minutes, until police officers arrived at the crime scene around the corner and began to take note of where the 40-plus bullet casings had scattered. What did not arrive was the caravan of TV trucks and reporters that so often descend on schools when such scenes play out in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. In the hours that followed, students began to unravel. Among the things they said: “Who’s going to shoot me?” “I want to shoot people.” “I want to shoot myself.” “The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared. In April, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High, and that day will arrive in the aftermath of the worst year of school shootings in modern American history. Last spring, The Washington Post launched a database that tracked incidents of gun violence on campuses dating back to 1999, and the carnage in 2018 shattered every record. Most shootings at schools: 25. Most people shot: 94. Most people killed: 33. Most students exposed to gunfire on their campuses: 25,332.
1-4-19 Pope Francis: US sex abuse scandal undermines Church's credibility
Pope Francis has said the credibility of the Catholic Church in the US has been severely damaged by the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal there. Efforts to cover up the crimes had caused even greater harm, he said in a letter delivered to US bishops attending a retreat in Chicago. He urged the bishops to end internal bickering and show unity as they tried to tackle the crisis. The Pope's comments on child abuse have grown stronger over time. In an extensive letter released by the Vatican, the Pope says the "hurt caused" has generated "division and dispersion" within the ranks of US bishops. "God's faithful people and the Church's mission continue to suffer greatly as a result of abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled," he wrote, adding bishops had "concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation". "Combating the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demands of us a renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts," the Pope wrote. Attempts to restore the institution's credibility must be based on rebuilding trust, he added. Next month, US bishops will join their counterparts from across the world for an extraordinary meeting at the Vatican to find ways of tackling the crisis. A report last year by a grand jury in Pennsylvania identified more than 1,000 victims abused by hundreds of priests over seven decades in that state alone. In July of last year, the pontiff accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the US Church's most prominent figures, following allegations he had sexually abused a teenager. In October, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington DC, stepped down over his handling of abuse cases. Pope Francis called for "decisive action" when he was elected in 2013, but critics say he has not done enough to hold to account bishops who allegedly covered up abuse. In late December, he urged priests who had offended to surrender to the law, in preparation for "divine justice". (Webmaster's comment: Divine Justice has not worked for over 1,500 years. Why should we expect it to work now? It's just words!)