Putting our children at risk

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Child sexual abuse a concern for everyone, especially LGBT parents

Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children. So it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is, there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and is seriously underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse.

Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies, even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families, and aware of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old, married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied, this week in an NBC interview, engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him.

His admissions shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected — Sandusky is most likely a pedophile that has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true, the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combating child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948.

In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then, awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching, who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child, who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes. The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality.

Also, victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them.

But the real tragedy — if the allegations are true — will be the lasting impact upon the victims.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.        

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Fundraiser set to benefit sanctuary for abused horses, other animals

‘Honky Tonk for Horses’ will help pay for 35 animals now at Ranch Hand Rescue, another 22 horses now in rehab after being rescued

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

A NEW HOME | Bob Williams of Ranch Hand Rescue welcomes Midnight to his new home at the sanctuary for abused horses and other animals. Midnight is missing one hoof, and Williams said he is working on getting the animal a prosthetic leg.

Bob Williams is passionate about rescuing abused and neglected farm animals — so passionate that he and his partner, Marty Polasko, opened a sanctuary for them.

Next Thursday, Dec. 16, Williams hopes to raise $10,000 for his organization, Ranch Hand Rescue, at Honky Tonk for Horses, a silent auction being held at The Mule Barn, a sports bar in Justin, just north of Fort Worth.

Ranch Hand Rescue provides sanctuary and medical care for abused farm animals from around North Texas. Founded in April 2009, the rescue has already saved 85 farm animals — mostly horses but also donkeys, mules, llamas, pigs, a turtle and rabbits.

“We work with law enforcement on animal abuse,” Williams said. “When the owner’s arrested, we’re called in.”

Currently, Ranch Hand Rescue has 35 animals adopted into their sanctuary and 22 horses in rehab. They’re involved in four current investigations.
Williams has no sympathy for anyone abusing animals.

“When we’re involved in these cases, we work to see the owner is prosecuted,” he said.

He said he is working with legislators to fix current state animal abuse laws. Beating an animal to death is a felony in Texas, but starving an animal to death is just a misdemeanor. Williams wants that fixed.

Williams said that Ranch Hand Rescue has four components.

“Our baby is the sanctuary,” he said.

That’s where they care for animals that have lived through abuse and neglect.

Rescue is the second piece of their mission. They have put together a network of foster families throughout Texas who help them nurse animals back to health. Starvation is the biggest problem.

“We have to jump-start their digestive systems,” Williams said.  That involves giving the animals medication, special feed in small amounts and eight meals a day.

And a lot of love, Williams said.

Third, Ranch Hand Rescue is involved in working with legislators to change animal cruelty laws. But Williams stresses his organization gets no financial help from the state or local governments.

Finally, Williams said, “Because we have a sanctuary, we have groups come in — kids with AIDS, autistic children, disabled kids.”

On Saturday, Dec. 11, a group from Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home, an orphanage and transitional home for abused children in Denton, will spend the day at the sanctuary. Williams said that they’ll tell the children the story of the animals and let them interact. Then Santa will arrive on a fire truck with presents.

The money raised at Honky Tonk for Horses will go directly toward care of the animals. Williams described the extent of injuries he’s currently dealing with.

“Most horses come in with worms,” he said. “One was beaten so badly her withers are broken. We want her in a home where she’ll be loved and cared for.”

A horse named Midnight came in without a hoof. Williams is making a prosthetic leg and hoping some of the veterinary cost of replacing it will be donated.

The sanctuary can accommodate about 55 sick animals that are penned, but when they become healthy and need more space, some have to be moved out.

They already have some land in McKinney and are hoping to finalize a deal on more property in Gainesville this week, Williams said.

American Pet Spa & Resort in Argyle has been Ranch Hand Rescue’s major sponsor. Polasko owns the boarding and grooming company where pets take pampered vacations while their owners are away.

Williams said a large number of customers drive out from Oak Lawn because of the extraordinary care Polasko gives their pets.

But the cost of caring for the farm animals begins with about $500 to transport an animal and several hundred dollars in veterinary bills for each animal before treatment begins. Feed and on-going care runs about $125 per animal per month.

Much of the funding has comes from the LGBT community, but as the organization expands, the need for additional funds grows.

Honky Tonk for Horses is expected to be the largest fundraiser for the organization so far. The silent auction features DVD players, race packages including hotel stays and tickets, autographed sports and Hollywood memorabilia, Rangers tickets, restaurant gift certificates and more.

Entertainment will be provided by a number of local bands.

Everybody Love Raymond actress Doris Roberts is a supporter of Ranch Hand Rescue and plans to come to Fort Worth in the spring for a fundraising event. Billy Bob’s Texas has offered to participate.

In addition, Williams said that they’ve recently hired a fundraising director and a grant writer.

Although Pet Smart doesn’t do horses as part of their retail business, through their foundation, they’ve provided volunteers and other assistance.

How successful has Ranch Hand Rescue been in saving animals from neglect and abuse? Has an animal’s suffering ever been so great that they decided to put it down?

“As long as they don’t suffer, we’ll do whatever it takes,” Williams said. “We never lost one yet.”

Honky Tonk for Horses, The Mule Barn, 218 Highway 156, Justin. Dec. 16 from 5 p.m. to closing. No cover charge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens