What happens when children are blocked from telling what is happening to them at home? What happens when they are forbidden to even describe what they are feeling? The latest developments in Wendi G.'s case raise these questions in poignant ways.
Wendi's children are currently living with their father in Colorado. Wendi reports that she has been permitted no contact with the children -- not even telephone conversations -- for over three weeks. Given that Wendi was the children's primary caregiver through most of their lives, we have to assume that a period that long of being completely cut off from her would be deeply distressing to them.
But it appear that we don't just have to assume. Friday I received two worrisome letters from parents who have children in school with Wendi G.'s children. The first is from a mother who has a daughter who knows Wendi's daughter. To protect people's privacy and safety, I need to assign fictitious names to the mother, "Virginia," her daughter, "Amanda," and Wendy's daughter, "Caleigh". Virginia's letter raised the following concerns:
* "A week ago I was called to come to the school during lunch time as my daughter Amanda was very upset. I arrived and Amanda told me that Caleigh's father had discovered a letter that Caleigh had from her mother, in which Wendi said to Caleigh that Amanda's mom was a safe person for Caleigh to turn towards and confide in. According to what Caleigh told Amanda, her father made threats to [make Caleigh tell] who Amanda was, and Caleigh told Amanda that she and I were in danger. The clear implication to Amanda was that Caleigh's father was going to hurt us. "
* Virginia reports that in this same conversation with her daughter, Amanda told her that a few weeks ago Caleigh had told her that she was being sexually abused by her father. Amanda had kept this secret but now told her mother.
* Virginia goes on to explain that she chose not to report to school personnel what Amanda had told her about Caleigh's disclosure, because she had raised concerns about boundary violations toward Caleigh several months ago, and the school had not taken action. Specifically, Virginia had heard rumors that Caleigh's father was going into Caleigh's room and hugging her while he was naked. "I immediately called the school thinking that they would be concerned as well... While the school nurse was very concerned, the administration was not... I am unsure if the school ever made a report - but I did call DHS child abuse hotline. Nothing every came of it."
* So instead of attempting to involve the school this time, Virginia decided to go directly to law enforcement. "This time, armed with what Caleigh said to Amanda, I called the police to file a report. Within a few hours of going to the police station a police officer who works under Sgt. Taylor called and interviewed me. He said he would be checking with Crimes Against Children and the Sexual Crimes departments and then interviewing Caleigh. Thus far I do not believe this has happened."
Virginia's letter mostly speaks for itself, but I do want to add a few comments. First of all, sexual abuse of children is typically preceded by a pattern of boundary violations that increase in intensity, as the perpetrator attempts to accustom the child to being abused. So in cases where there are reports of milder inappropriate behavior followed by more outright violations, law enforcement authorities and family court personnel have particular reason to take the allegations seriously and make sure that they are investigated carefully and objectively.
Second, the literature on child sexual abuse is full or references to the ways in which perpetrators enforce secrecy and make their victims afraid to talk to other people about the violations -- or even afraid to talk to other people about anything. (For an overview, see chapter 4 of my book, The Batterer as Parent. ) So any indications that the children are being told to stay away from speaking to certain individuals, or to anyone, would be serious warning signs given the other worrisome reports on this case. And such indications do exist, as I will be discussing in my next entry.
Last, I am deeply concerned about the way in which professionals seem to shy away from properly examining the potential risks to Wendi G.'s children. As I will be reviewing, there have been a number of opportunities to find out what level of risk these children are living with, and professionals have either moved extremely slowly -- which is not appropriate where there are signs that children may be suffering harm -- or have dropped the ball altogether. The pattern of professional error in this case creates an impression of backroom deals and pressure from within the church; I hope that this is just an impression, and not the dynamic that it appears to be.
In my next entry I will discuss the second letter I received, which gives me good reason to worry for Wendi's son. This is clearly a case with an urgent need for responses from law enforcement, child protection, and school personnel that are considerably more unbiased, diligent, thorough, and prompt than they have been so far.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
It is important for professionals to see that there is growing public awareness about this case and that concerned people want to see this case properly handled, with appropriate steps taken to assess and protect the keep the children safe.
Executive Assistant for the Board of Education
District 49, Colorado Springs
Describe your concerns about Wendi G.'s case, and say that it involves Ridgeview Elementary and Skyview Middle School (Ms. Branham will not recognize the case without Wendi's last name, which we are not giving, but personnel at the schools will, so ask Ms. Branham to pass your concerns onto the schools.)
Crimes Against Children Unit, Colorado Springs,CO
Say that you are calling about case # 11-16865, then express your concerns.
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