Jeff: Good afternoon. My name is Jeff Herman. I’m an attorney with Herman Law. We have offices in Florida and New York. And what we do is represent victims in sexual abuse cases, in civil cases. And so, there are criminal cases regarding sexual abuse where somebody may be prosecuted for the crime of sexual abuse. And then there’s civil cases which is where victims have the right to bring a civil case against the perpetrator, an institution that was responsible for hiring and supervising the perpetrator. And those cases are for money damages and that’s primarily the cases that we handle. And so we do these cases across the country. We have fulltime offices in Florida and New York. And what I’m gonna talk about today is interviewing victims of sexual abuse particularly children, child victims, and this is really important part of what we do.
And from my experience and training over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is maybe the most important thing that I do in handling sex abuse cases, because I believe that if an interview of a child is done correctly, it can help a child to begin to heal. If it’s done incorrectly, it can be disastrous, it does the opposite. And so I think it’s important and one of the reasons I do these trainings is to help people in the field, in this business of helping kids to help them learn how to use some of the techniques that I’ve developed over the years and share my experiences. And so hopefully we’ll make the world safer and help kids to heal. So first, I wanna talk a little bit about the problem and what we’re dealing with.
You know, when I grew up, we all learn about stranger danger. And I was told no, stay away from strangers. Well, what we now know is that stranger danger is not very accurate. I mean, sure, strangers can be dangers, but 90% of kids that are abused are abused by somebody they know. So what that means that typically is that the victim knows the person who’s abusing him. And so what happens is they go through a grooming process typically, where the perpetrator, the predator will groom them with special attention, with gifts. And the victim, when the sex starts, becomes what’s called a compliant victim. They don’t consent, they can’t consent because they’re kids but they’re physically compliant many times with the abuse.
So what that then is that creates a problem in reporting because these kids who are victimized feel like they’ve done something wrong, they’re guilty, they’re ashamed, they’re being asked to report on somebody who their family probably trust because they were told to trust this person, after all somebody they know and is involved in their life. And so that’s the problem. So what we’re dealing with, the real problem statistically, the child molesters are family members, clergy, coaches, anywhere kids are going to be, we’re gonna find predators. Right now, there are pedophiles and sexual predators thinking about ways to get access to our children. And so we need to be vigilant and we need to understand what the problem is.
So I’m gonna talk about my first case, how I got involved in this area. So back in the ’90s, I was a commercial litigator representing businesses and contract disputes, and at the end of year in a one business one, one business maybe had more money. It was very sort of hollow to me. And then in the late 1990s, a mother came to see me who had an autistic child at a preschool that came home and said, “Mr. Dan touched my pee-pee.” This was a slightly verbal child who was autistic in preschool. Of course, every parent’s worst nightmare. The mother came to me and said, “I don’t know what to do.” And of course there’s no handbook for this. You know, all of a sudden, this mom who’s dealing with a special needs child is now dealing with police, therapists, lawyers.
And I said to her, “Let me look at it. You know, I don’t know much about this. Let me see what I can find out.” And I did some research and I learned that the pedophile in this case was a convicted pedophile who had recently got out of prison from California and came to Florida and was able to get a job at a preschool dealing with autistic children. And I said, “How can this happen?” And so I got involved in that case because it was troubling to me. As a parent, as a human being, as a lawyer, this was outrageous to me. And so I got involved in this case. I took it on and it became a very important part of my life because I ended up representing over 20 families who all had kids at this preschool.
And throughout this case, there were lots of twists and turns and one of them was that the predator, the pedophile, his name is Dan Donahue, is that before he was arrested, he was able to flee the country. And while these civil cases were going on, he’s off somewhere abusing someone else’s children. And of course, to the parents of the victims, this was horrific. And I took the deposition of the perpetrator’s sister and I learned that she had wired him money to the Philippines at some general mailbox account. And so I contacted the FBI and said, “He’s in the Philippines. We think he’s in the Philippines, you know, you have to go arrest him.”
And they had what’s called a fugitive arrest warrant out for him because he had fled the country. And the FBI told me, “Well, that’s great but we need more. We need more specifics. We have 200 people we’re looking for in the Philippines and every other free country has people they’re looking for.” So I had my own investigation in the Philippines and sure enough, in a matter of days, I was able to get a local address for this guy. Because when you enter the country, you have to give an address. And so he was staying at one of these live-in motels. We thought he was there because we had some evidence that he was actually still staying there.
So then I went to the moms of these kids and I have them write handwritten letters to the FBI agent on the case talking about how they cannot sleep at night and how this man, this monster, needs to be stopped. And I met with the FBI agent, I gave the agent the address for Donahue in the Philippines and the handwritten letters, and I told her, the agent. I said, “I also gave the moms your phone number, they’ll be calling.” The next day, this guy was arrested in the Philippines. He was brought back and he was convicted and sent to prison in Florida. So that was a very rewarding experience for me and I decided that after that case that there really was a need for this kind of firm that I handle, the cases that I do, to represent these victims.
And so I wanna get into interviewing kids now, and the first thing that everyone has to realize when you’re conducting interviews of children is that you should always treat it like a forensic interview. A forensic interview is a professional interview that’s conducted with objectivity. It’s a sound interview of a kid that would be potentially admissible in court. In other words, you wanna do an interview that when someone looks at that, they’re not gonna argue that, “Oh, you suggested things to the child and therefore it’s not a fair interview.” We don’t want tainted testimony. At all times when you’re interviewing a child, you wanna do it in a way that’s forensically sound, that will withstand scrutiny.
But the most important thing, I’m gonna talk about this again and again, is that you focus on helping the child heal. Focus on helping the child heal because through the interview process, you can actually begin to give the child control in their lives and a sense of healing that will begin. And I always say healing is a journey, not a destination. There is no magic wand that, “Awesome, the child is healed.” Nobody has ever healed but there’s always healing and there’s certain milestones that take place that are really important to the healing process. And I’m gonna talk about why, but I think the disclosure is a really important part of the healing process.
The reason it can be important part is the way our memory works. So, we ordinarily remember things in what’s called a cinematic way, in sequence. If you think about what you did yesterday, you’re gonna remember things in your life in order, in sequence like a movie. And ordinarily, that’s how we remember things. When we’re under certain amount of stress, our brain actually enhances the memory system in that our brain releases adrenaline and that allows us to actually remember things, sometimes more clearer than if we were not under stress. For example, if I ask everybody, do they remember where they were at in 9/11, most people remember exactly where they were at.
They don’t remember what they have for lunch that day, but they remember where they were at when they heard 9/11 because that was a stressful event. Our brains are designed to help us remember those things for safety purposes that we can remember those things. However, when we’re under a tremendous amount, unnatural stress, our brain will release so much adrenaline that it actually interferes with the normal memory mechanism. So instead of remembering things sequentially, all of a sudden, the brain is remembering fragments. And those fragments are like pin balls that are bouncing around someone’s head that I believe cause a lot of pain and suffering in victims of sexual abuse.
Being in such abuse is an extremely traumatic and stressful event, and for many victims, they’ll remember fragments, particularly as children, even sometimes people saw it as adults. It’s so stressful. They’re remembering fragments not in sequence. And so one of the things that I believe is important for the healing process is to help victims take those fragments and put them in order, and that helps them begin to heal. So the dos and the don’ts when we’re interviewing kids is we want to empower the child. One thing that we know is that many children who were sexually abused feel like they’ve lost power and control in their lives. And we see this all the time with adult survivors.
I meet with adults who’ve never gotten help, who’ve never disclosed what happened. They come to me as adults and you can see they literally live their lives with this loss of control, this loss of power. And that’s problematic because it causes all kinds of problems. On the flipside, when we know someone sexually abused and we begin to empower them, especially a child, they get back that control and that feels good. And so we want to empower the child, and the way I do that is when I meet with the child I ask them where do they wanna sit in the room? Where do you want me to sit? Give them that little bit of control and that feels good, and it starts to give them, at some level, a sense of empowerment in their life.
I remind the child, tell them they’ve done nothing wrong. Because kids think they’ve done something wrong. As I mentioned, they’re compliant victims. We wanna use words a child understands, and so to speak at their level. Some don’ts, never interview the child at the scene of the crime. I’ve heard so many stories of investigators who go out, for example, the child is being allegedly sexually abused by the stepfather. They go into the child’s home and they take the child on to a separate room and they wanna ask the kid about the abuse. Well, this child is at the scene of the crime. Thinks, and it may be true that the parent is listening in. It’s not a safe place and so we don’t wanna do the interviews at the scene of the crime.
Do not be afraid of the subject matter. If penises and vaginas and all these things make you uncomfortable, you’re in the wrong business. Because if you’re uncomfortable, the child is gonna be uncomfortable in telling you their story. So this, you have to go in and once you have their own style, but you have to go in not being afraid or uncomfortable with the subject matter. Okay, so one of the first things you do in the interview now is to teach the child victim how to tell a story. And tell a story in a way that’s going to ultimately illicit important details of the abuse if it occurred. Okay. So one of the things I do, and by the way, I have these coins here that we created at our firm that we give to victims.
And kids love this, adults love this, it’s a tribute to survivors’ coin from our firm. And what happens is oftentimes when I’m meeting a child and when they’re going to give their interview and make their disclosure, we’ll give them this coin. And as I give them making the disclosure, it feels good and they feel empowered and it becomes a safety thing for them, and they love these coins. And oftentimes later on when they’re testifying or telling their story, they’ll take these coins and hold them, and it gives them a sense of security. Because they feel like it’s a safe place when they’ve told their story. So I’m gonna give this coin to my first volunteer who is going to volunteer to tell me what they did this morning after they woke up and I’m gonna teach them how to tell the story.
So the man in the yellow shirt and a tie right there. Okay. So, can you tell us what’s your name?
Jeff: Lee, okay. Lee. Tell us what you did this morning from the moment you woke up?
Lee: Let’s see. I woke up, I stretched a little. Then I went to the gym.
Jeff: Okay. So we’re gonna stop you right there. So you woke up, you stretched, and you went to the gym. Okay, now, I want you to tell that same story with as much detail as you can remember and I’m gonna help you do that. Okay? I want everyone to watch him as he does this. So Lee, you opened your eyes, you stretched in bed.
Lee: No, I got out of bed.
Jeff: Okay. So, did you have an alarm clock or you just woke up?
Lee: My phone alarm.
Jeff: Okay. So, what’s the first thing you did?
Lee: I looked at it. First, I had an email from my boss, I had to clear it.
Jeff: Okay. How did you get to your phone?
Lee: It was right in my night table.
Jeff: Okay, right or left side.
Lee: It was on the left side.
Jeff: Okay. So you reached over with what hand?
Lee: Left hand.
Jeff: Okay, reached over your left hand and did what?
Lee: Grabbed it and then stopped the alarm with my right hand.
Jeff: Reach with your right hand and you press the button. Okay, and then what did you do?
Lee: And I got out of bed after I cleared the email. I got up and then I went to the living room.
Jeff: Okay. So you got up, you stood up and then you walked to the door.
Lee: I walked around the bed to the door.
Jeff: Was the door open or shut?
Jeff: Okay. So how did you open the door?
Lee: With my right hand.
Jeff: You reached over to your right hand and did what?
Lee: Put my hand right on…
Jeff: Okay, so we’ll stop you there. Lee, here’s your coin. Thank you. Okay. So if you noticed, Lee was telling the story and he’s remembering things. He’s looking up in his head so to speak. And that’s really important because what happens is that he’s taking the story, he’s putting it in chronological order, but he’s also removing the emotion from the story because he’s focusing on the facts. And so he’s kind of calculating and when we do that with survivors, what I find is that it’s much easier to tell the story because they’re focused on the facts, and they’re giving a detailed story. So later on now, when I ask the child for the disclosure, I’m gonna remind them.
Now tell me the story of what happened with as much detail as you can remember. I’m gonna give you an example, this is real life testimony of a little girl I represented who at a preschool was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy. And the way this little girl was sexually assaulted is that during nap time, she was five years old. The teenager came up from behind, woke her up, and sexually assaulted her. Because the way she was assaulted, she was always scared about something coming up from behind. And it got to the point where this little girl could not look in a mirror because looking in the mirror reminded her that something or someone could be coming up from behind and she would see monsters in the mirror.
So her parents had to put sheets over all their mirrors. This little girl cannot brush her hair. Her mother had to brush her hair because she was afraid to look in the mirror. But this is her now after in a deposition learning how to tell a story.
And I’m gonna ask you some questions and I want you to try to answer them the best that you can. So let’s start with what you did from the moment you woke up today. Tell me about your day. Try to remember as much detail, as many things that you can remember until you got here.
Girl: I woke up, I put on the clothes. I opened the door.
Jeff: So you opened the door to leave your bedroom?
Jeff: And then what did you do next?
Girl: I went to look at [inaudible 00:18:03], and I got it here.
Jeff: Okay. And who made your breakfast? Where were you sitting when you ate your breakfast?
Jeff: You were standing?
Jeff: Where did you eat your breakfast?
Girl: On my car.
Jeff: Oh, in the car going here.
So there, she’s learning how to testify with details. The next thing is we talk about good secrets and bad secrets. A good secret is a secret that has a happy ending. You’ve got your mom a present for her birthday and you haven’t given it to her yet. A bad secret, kids tell me, makes you feel sad. And everybody knows what a bad secret is. We’ve all had them. And the thing about bad secrets is that once you tell somebody, they’re no longer a secret and they lose their power, and that feels good. You’ve all heard the saying, the truth will set you free? Well, it really does and especially so with these bad secrets that kids are carrying around about being sexually abused.
Next, I qualify the kids to be able to take the oath and tell the difference between a truth and a lie. One of the things they do and there’s different ways to do this is I have these cards that I ask the child, for example in this case, what’s on the top of the picture? And child identifies it as a cat. And I said, “Okay, the boy in the blue shirt sees the cat and he says it’s a cat. The boy in the red shirt sees the cat and he says it’s a dog. Which boy told the truth? Which boy told a lie?” And statistically, if you do that and the child gets it right, I think it’s four times, that has a 90% likelihood that they can tell the difference between a truth and a lie and this is how we can qualify, even kids as young as three years old or special needs kids to tell the truth, and this is important.
Then we’re getting into the disclosure now. And I’ve created this circle of truth. What I do is I ask the kids their favorite color and I have every colored marker ever seen. And everyone has their favorite colors and they take their favorite colors and then I have to make a circle. And we call that the circle of truth. And what we’re going to do is put down all the bad secrets into the circle of truth. And I always start with what I already know or what they’re willing to tell me. And then as we go through the interview, we add things into the circle of truth. And this, I believe, is empowering to kids because every time a new detail emerges, a secret, and goes into that circle, I receive it in a very positive and supportive way and it feels good.
And so we’re going to complete that circle of truth. But the way we get there is to do a forensically sound interview. When we’re talking particularly about the disclosure, we wanna ask open-ended questions. And I usually start off by saying, “I understanding something might have happened to you or do you remember this school or where did you go to school? Did you like your school?” Something that’s very open-ended that leaves the child on their own to start talking about the event. And then you use the child’s own words to build upon what happened. We never suggest words to the child, we use their words, we repeat them and add to them. And again, another note, I think true healing does not begin until the child makes a full disclosure.
I’m gonna give you an example. I represented a little girl. This little girl was sexually abused by a man at her school, who also sexually assaulted several other young girls. The man was arrested. This little girl, my client told her mom that he touched her. The mom brought her to the police, the police said, “Okay, we don’t wanna make her go through a whole forensic interview because we already have several other victims and we believe this man is gonna plead guilty. So we’ll let you know but let’s go ahead and get her into therapy.” Well, that’s great except now this little girl has…no one’s really asked her what happened. She’s got all these secrets bouncing around her head.
She goes into therapy and therapy is about feelings, it’s not about the disclosure or what happened unless it’s relevant and it’s coming out as part of your therapy. Two years later, this little girl is now doing poorly. She’s wearing multiple layers of sweatshirt, she hasn’t brushed her hair in six months. The clothes are what we call body armor. Many victims will cover themselves with clothes or piercings or tattoos as a way to protect themselves. And not shower because they feel dirty, and they think if they’re dirty, no one’s going to want to touch them sexually. And so these are the things that we often see. So this little girl was suffering.
Her mother came to me for the civil case a couple of years later and I did a disclosure interview with her. And I brought her in and it’s important, man should never meet with a child alone. I always have a female assistant in there with me. And let me say it straight out, men are much more dangerous statistically than women, 90% of sexual predators are men, and a man should never meet alone with a child. So anyways, the child comes in, my assistant is there and I start the interview process. And we do a circle of truth, and the circle start to talk and starts, “Tell me your story.” And I’m like, “Okay, tell me with as much detail.” She start describing how she was brought into the bathroom and how she was raped, and she goes into great detail.
And she was describing this man taking off her clothes, putting her on all fours and getting behind her and penetrating her. But she’s describing it being raped and she doesn’t even know what sex is. But she’s telling me the story and gives a full account. And then she goes back out into the reception area. And now the hard part for me is I have to tell their parents. Getting it from the kids, to me, it’s not that difficult emotionally because it’s already happened and I know I’m gonna help them heal. Telling these parents now who have no idea their child has been raped at this level is, I know I’m gonna shatter them. And so they come in and I tell them. “This is what she told me. You need to know this straight out.”
And I tell them and of course the parents are extremely upset, crying hysterically. But I talk about how this has already happened and she’s been suffering. So now, hopefully she’ll begin to heal. And we talk for a while, go back out into reception area, and then I look and the mother starts crying again. And I’m like, “I know.” She goes, “No, no, look.” And she looks over and sure enough, this little girl is standing in front of a mirror brushing her hair. She took off her sweatshirts and tied them around her waist. Now, to me, that was just an incredible sight to see. And this little girl just began to heal. For so many years, she’s kept those bad secrets bouncing around her head like pin balls in a pin ball machine and no one had ever asked her and she never had the opportunity to make a disclosure.
Literally, 15 minutes later, her healing has begun. And so that was really significant to see. This is that same child in a deposition going through her disclosure.
I understand that something might have happened to you.
Jeff: Could you talk to me about that?
Girl: About a year ago, not a year ago, but a long time ago.
Jeff: What happened?
Girl: There was a boy named Ronnel, right? He wasn’t there right now?
Jeff: You have to tell me, what happened?
Girl: I don’t really remember his name.
Jeff: You think his name was Ronnel?
Girl: I don’t really remember.
Jeff: Okay. What do you remember?
Girl: I went to a school and then every day when he came, he would be in charge when the teacher weren’t in the class.
Jeff: Okay. I want you to remember real hard. So you were in school a long time ago and you think the boy’s name was Ronnel and you said he was in charge when the teacher was not in the class?
Girl: Mm-hmm, yes.
Jeff: Yes, okay. And what happened with Ronnel?
Girl: And it was sleep time when he was in charge.
Jeff: Okay. And did something happen?
Jeff: What happened?
Girl: He took out his private part.
Jeff: He took out his private part?
Jeff: And then what happened?
Girl: And then he put his hand on my private part.
Jeff: He put his hand on your private part?
Girl: Mm-hmm, yes.
Jeff: Okay. Did anything else happen?
Girl: He put his private part on my mouth.
Girl: And he puts his private part on my private part.
Girl: And I think that’s all we know.
Jeff: So, she just made a very detailed forensically sound disclosure. She described all the events of the sexual assault in a fair amount of detail. Those were her words, not my words. She built upon her own words, was able to tell a full story. This girl was eight years old at this time. She was abused when she was five. Shortly after this, we went to trial and this little girl testified. And I know when parents come to me the first thing that they’re concerned about is, “I want my child to have to talk about what happened.” I tried to explain to them that if done correctly, testifying and disclosing and discussing what happened is actually helpful to the child.
Forgetting about it and trying to ignore it and stick your head in the sand is the worst thing for a child, because the problems will come out at very inconvenient times later on in life. And so try to encourage parents to not be afraid to let their kids testify even if it’s a criminal case or even if it’s a therapist. But don’t be afraid to talk about it. But in civil cases, this mom was concerned, but you can see this girl was able to testify and we went to trial. And so one of the things I do, again in trial, very important, empower the child. Every judge is willing to help you out to protect the child. And so usually what I do is I’ll bring the child in, either first thing in the morning or after lunch, so that’s a break. And then I bring the child, meets the judge privately.
The judge usually is always very friendly, tells a nice story to the child, I introduce them to the bailiff which are big, tough guys, usually armed. And then we go in the courtroom and the courtroom is empty and show them where they’re gonna sit and I ask the child. I ask her, “Where do you want me to stand?” And she goes, “Right there.” And I said, “Okay, I’m gonna stand right here.” And I said, the bailiff, I said, “Do you want him to stand next to you?” She goes, “Yeah, right here.” And the bailiff was thrilled to do that. And then I explained where the jury is gonna be and that. So then we called her in to testify and I stood where she wanted. The bailiff stood right next to her, big and strong.
And I introduced her to the jury. And I went through, basically a forensic interview with her. And she looked at the jury right in the eye and told them her story. And we won the case, it was important. The money is really insignificant. It’s all about the healing. The money is symbolic. You know, of course there’s no amount of money is ever gonna take away what happened. But narcissism of justice, that’s all they can do. And in the civil cases, I think, are particularly important with regards to sexual abuse and that’s because most criminal cases will not get prosecuted. Why? Because of the burden of proof. In a criminal case, in order to prove a child was abused, you have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a very high standard.
In these cases, they’re the classic he said, she said. And so you usually don’t have objective physical evidence, what you have is testimony. And so if you just have an adult saying one thing and a child saying another thing, there’s probably gonna be reasonable doubt and they wanted to get prosecuted. And the other problem is that the victim in a criminal case is not a party, they have no standing, meaning they are only a witness. It’s the state bringing the criminal charges against the defendant. And so the state attorney’s office or the prosecutor or the DA’s office will decide what they wanna do with the case without regard to what the victim wants to do. Because the victim, again, is a witness, so they have no standing, no power, no control, which is the worst thing.
And so what happens oftentimes in these criminal cases, the families move forward and they are so frustrated and disappointed. And so what I tell them, very important from day one is that all you can do in a criminal case is report the crime and participate, and that’s how our system works. And what that does, it validates for you that, you know, a bad thing happened and you’ve done what you can do. But the civil case is very different because in a civil case, the victim is the party. The victim and/or their parents will make the decisions, how they wanna move forward, what they wanna do, and how they wanna handle the case, and whether they wanna settle the case or not.
So the money becomes insignificant, it’s the idea of the power and the control that they have to control the case. And at the end of the day, when they get closure on that case and they’ve been empowered, again, I think that’s an important milestone on the healing process. So, last couple of things I wanna talk about are some of the things we face, obstacles in getting kids to talk about their abuse. Anyone have any ideas, thoughts, what are the things, what are the problems, what are the obstacles that we face and try? Why don’t kids wanna talk about what happened to them? Anybody? Yes.
Woman 1: They’re embarrassed.
Jeff: They’re embarrassed. Right. Absolutely true. Typical kids, just normal sexual relationships. When they have their first sexual relationships, they don’t typically come home and say, “Hey mom, guess what I did today?” And talk about the sex. Now, you add in now the factors that this was not typical sexual relationship with an adult. And it’s with somebody the family probably knows, they’re embarrassed to talk about it. What else?
Lee: They’re afraid.
Jeff: They’re afraid, right. This is very important. What you have to remember is that when a child discloses that they’ve been sexually abused, they understand the ramifications of that unless they’re very, very young. Most kids understand and they’re afraid of the ramifications because, remember this now, they’re outing somebody, might be a family member. They know that person is gonna get arrested. They might be removed from their own family. And they’re afraid that if I tell what happened to me, I’m gonna be taken away from my home which does happen unfortunately or fortunately depending on the situation. But it’s scary, no child wants to be removed from their home typically.
They’re afraid they’re reporting somebody most likely that the parents trust and had told this child they should trust. It could be their coach or it could be the rabbi or the priest. Somebody that the family loves and is charismatic. You know, predators don’t believe that they’re hurting children. Pedophiles believe that they love children in a loving way. And the problem today, I believe, is worst than ever. I think there’s more acting out today than before. Anybody have any ideas why?
Lee: The internet?
Jeff: The internet. You’ve been in this class before. Right. Yeah, the internet, that’s exactly right. Not every pedophile is a child molester. Okay, pedophile means technically that you have a sexual interest in pre-PBS and children. The word pedophiles now use generally to talk about anyone who’s abusing a minor, it’s all under 18. But every pedophile doesn’t necessarily molest children. There are pedophiles who are content to simply fantasize about having sex with children. It used to be back in the 1970s, a pedophile had very limited access to child porn. They would send away overseas and once every six months, they would sneak a magazine in the country, and that would be enough to satisfy their desires. And they would fantasize with maybe some child porn, limited child porn.
Now what happens, they going in the internet and boom, in a matter of seconds, they have more child porn than they know what to do with, and it desensitizes them. Just like it desensitizes a porn for adults, but child porn desensitizes the pedophile. They want more. Add into that, now they have access to children like they didn’t have before. They’re literally in our kid’s bedrooms at night on social media talking to our kids. Then they talk to other pedophiles, other predators who are online and they’re thinking, “Well, maybe I’m not so weird. This is normal. We all love kids.” And so there is more acting out today than ever before. The other thing we see, I mean, if you look on the news almost every day you’re gonna see a high school teacher caught and arrested for having sex with a student.
Well, is that all new? Did it happen before? What’s going on here particularly this female teachers? I mean, you see this all the time. Well, again, I think the internet is the reason. And in this case, the internet is good and it’s bad. It’s bad because what happens is now this high school teachers have access to our kids via social media. When I grew up, if my teacher wanted to call me, she’d call the house phone and my mom answered. And she would know if my teacher was calling me. Today, teachers can go online, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, tweeting, whatever the latest social media is, Snapchat, and they’ll have access to kids. And online, they’ll be able to, for the test the waters, by grooming differently than they would in person.
It’s easier sometimes to say things and throw a line out there and see what you get back. And test the waters to see which kids are gonna be responsive. Predators will have their tentacles out looking for vulnerable victims. And eventually, they’re gonna find a vulnerable victim. It’s kind of like I say, you see a guy in a bar who’s drunk and he’s obnoxious to every girl that walks by. Eventually, he might find a girl who’s drunk as well and she’ll respond and boom, he’s got his target. This is how predators are. They’re always looking for opportunities, so now you add in these teachers. They’re conversing and communicating on social media with kids, but then here’s a flipside of that. One of the reasons, I believe, we’re seeing all these teachers caught is because they leave digital fingerprints.
The mom or the dad sees the text, sees inappropriate photo, sees the communication because there is a digital fingerprint and that is being used now, fortunately, to help prosecute these teachers or adults who are acting inappropriately with the kids. And so we are faced with a monumental problem. The problem is worst today than ever, but we have tools at our disposal, and one of those is communication. And I don’t think it’s enough to educate kids about being safe. We need to educate the adult who are in their kids’ lives, looking for these red flags. I have this app out there called Safe Parent and it helps parents recognize red flags so that we can protect our kids. I mean, it is great. One of the best ways to protect kids is to expose predators and institutions that protect them.
And even better way is to educate parents and kids so the abuse never happens to begin with, and that’s important. So I wanna conclude with this little girl who was seeing monsters in the mirrors. As I said, we went to trial and we won. A few months later, she came to see me to tell me she no longer sees monsters in the mirrors. So, that’s why I do this work. It’s very rewarding. It’s important work and it’s important that we do it the right way and always focus on helping victims heal. Thank you.
Woman 2: Educating parents is really important. How do you go about doing that? It’s the parent of…
Jeff: Yeah, so if people have that app, it takes them through a conversation with our kids, and it takes them through the red flag. It makes it very easy to have a conversation, at the same time, it’s telling them what we’re looking out for. And I’m gonna give you an example about how that work with the parent. When I first came out, I saw the parent did…actually I said, “Do it with your child.” And he was, “No, no, no, I know the answer.” So it was a father. And I said, “So you have to pick out someone adult in your child’s life who, you know, might be concerned about.” Well, there is somebody you’re concerned about by the way. That’s the answer right there. Remove that person in his life.
He wasn’t concerned, but he’s like, “Well, I just saw him alone with my kid.” It was a tennis coach, a male tennis coach with his 10-year-old boy. And so he answered every question, turned out according to his answer, it seemed like this coach was safe. I said, “Okay, you have to do it with your son now.” He was okay. So he went through with his son and every answer was exactly the same except for when we got to the question, “Does he ever do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable?” And the son says yes. His dad said, “What? What do you mean? How does he make you feel uncomfortable?” He said, “Well, when he’s showing me how to hold the racket, he puts his arms around me, touches me in a way that it feels weird.”
Most likely, that is [inaudible 00:41:44]. Most likely, the child is feeling uncomfortable because he’s being touched in an inappropriate way. But at that point, the answer is very simple if you know what to do. And the answer is you’ll always err in the side of caution and you remove that adult in the kid’s life. Because if you err to the side of caution, what’s the worst thing that happen? You offended the tennis coach? Who cares? If you don’t err in the side of caution, what’s the worst that happens? Your child has been emotionally destroyed. Their soul has been murdered, they’ve been sexually abuse. Should I have this thing out or…? Can you hear me? Okay, okay. Any other questions?
Man 1: What percent of the kids can’t you get through to like in your experience of interviewing these kids? And sometimes you said, “Hey, these kids are not responsive.”
Jeff: Yeah. You know, I don’t know that I have ever had a kid, a child that was not able to get a disclosure from eventually. I mean, sometimes…and most disclosures evolve, they’re ongoing typically and then it’s always it’s age sensitive and it’s depending on the child. But sometimes the child needs to feel uncomfortable and they’ll tell you a little bit. I often have… And when I tell the kids, when I talk to them, I’m like, “Look, I want you to tell me the truth. But if there’s something that you don’t wanna talk about, you’re uncomfortable, just tell me so that I know there’s more and you’re not ready to tell me, because it’s important to know everything.” And that’s happened and then kids come back or they have their parents call me and say, “Oh, I would like to talk to Mr. Jeff.” And they wanna tell me more.
But it’s amazing when as soon as they start to tell the story, it becomes very easy because the kid start to feel good. I’ve had little kids, one little girl who said to me, “I feel like I’m floating,” after she told me the disclosure. That was her way of describing this weight have been lifted off her. She didn’t know what was going on but she felt so good inside. And so usually once they start, it’s getting them to start, that’s the tough part.
Lee: It sounds like how kids are emotionally damaged by this. Can you give examples of what kind of things show up either then or later in life?
Jeff: Sure, sure. I mean, so there are certain issues and psychological problems that are associated with being sexually abused. And there’s a wide range of things but nothing indicates in and of itself that the child has been abused but the behaviors and problems that we see. For example, many kids, many victims have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. And what that is basically is that anytime we’re exposed to trauma, whereas I mentioned before, our brain releases adrenaline. And the reason we release adrenaline is to prepare our bodies for the trauma. And so when that happens, our mind races, our heart rate increases, we sweat, our pupils dilate. And all these things happen, physiological changes that are helpful to avoid the stress.
We’re going through what’s called flight or fright or freeze. And so that’s really helpful. For example, you’re walking out in the woods and you see a bear, it comes to attack you. We go in a fight or flight or freeze. And instantaneously, our body decides whether to play dead or whether to run, and you’re calculating instantly what the safest thing to do. It’s not a conscious decision. And so that’s really helpful to survive a bear attack. Now it’s also helpful for survival and other times of stress. But what post-traumatic stress disorder is is when after the traumatic event happens, is there’re triggers that causes to relieve those feelings. So for example, a soldier comes home from war. He’s driving down the highway and a car backfires.
Now the soldier’s brain now has been trained to release adrenaline in response to that noise, to that boom! Soldier knows he’s not at war. He knows it’s not a bomb, but his brain is gonna release the adrenaline anyway because that’s what it’s been training to do. And now this poor soldier is driving on the road, his mind is racing, he’s sweating. His heart is pounding. People call that anxiety attack. It’s post-traumatic stress disorder and it’s very uncomfortable. You know, when now there’s no reason for it but you’re just relieving the stress, that happens with victims of sexual abuse. Many kids, many victims will have triggers. It might be a conscious trigger like driving passed a school where they were abused, or seeing someone who looks like their perpetrator.
It could be a subconscious trigger or a smell they don’t even realize. And what happens is kids will start becoming very agitated. Kids will complain of stomach aches but this is really an anxiety. They’re gonna get depressed. Many victims who don’t get help and treated will start to self-medicate when they become teenagers and older, because they wanna dam down those feelings. They don’t want to be constantly be in this feeling of stress and so they’ll do drugs or they’ll do alcohol. And now it’s just a vicious cycle because the drugs and alcohol will make them even feel more isolated and more depressed. And so they’ll do more drugs and alcohol. And so until we get to the root of the problem and help kids to start processing what happened, we see these kinds of problems.
We see lost of trust. We often sometimes begin to see physical problems. Kids who are under tremendous stress will begin to develop physical problems, and their immune system sometimes will be compromised. And so that happens. There could be, if it’s a member of clergy, there’s a loss of faith which is very, very difficult and damaging to a person. And so there are many things that are associated with kids being sexually abused. But again, once the healing begins, you know, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And the most important thing that I told parents is when they come to see me and they’re lost and they don’t know what to do is I say, “Look, I’m gonna give you a roadmap and your child’s path was this way, is now this way, but that’s not a path of their happiness.
There’s ways to help kids begin to heal. They may never forget what happened, but we wanna get them to a point where they can totally control those feelings and those feelings don’t control them.” Yes.
Man 2: Is there a pattern of behavior that indicate that they might be being groomed prior to the interviews other than going through the app and then having a way to prevent it?
Jeff: Well, sure, yeah. I mean there are definitely red flags that we talked about to look for. You know, if an adult wants to spend time with your kid, for example, alone, you wanna know why and you wanna question that. And, you know, I once gave a speech to a parent group about protecting kids. And afterwards, a group of moms who all lived in the same area came up to me, they asked me a question at the end. And they said, “Look, our kids all play in the same baseball team, our boys. And we have a great coach, he really loves the kids, but there’s one thing that bothers us. It’s that on Friday night, he wants to host a party at his apartment and have other boys come over to his apartment and have a pizza party. But we know that’s a little creepy, we’re not okay with that because, you know, we’re moms and, you know, we do have that sense of safety. So what we do is we have the parties at our homes, so we can keep an eye on him. And so we alternate week to week and on Friday nights, well, who’s gonna have the pizza party?”
What do you think about that? I said, “Let me ask you a couple of questions.” I said, “Does this coach have a kid on the team?” No. I said, “Okay. Is he married?” No. I said, “Okay. So you have this adult male who wants to spend his Friday nights with your boys, and you know that it’s so weird that you give up your Friday nights as adult nights so that you can keep an eye on this night because you’re afraid he might be molesting your kids?”
I said, “My opinion, the only reason this man wants to spend his Friday night with your kids, I don’t care how cute you think they are, is to have sex with them.” So yeah, there are behaviors and sometimes they are right in front of our faces but we don’t wanna see them because it’s too hard. You know, it’s easy to talk about it. That if someone makes you uncomfortable, remove them from your kid’s life. Well, what if it’s your brother or your father or the uncle or your priest or your rabbi? Someone who you trust and who you love and you can never think they’d be capable of such a thing. You’re really tested, but you always have to remember, you have responsibility to protect your kids. There’s no second chance there. Any other questions? Okay, thank you.