The Crazy Lady

I had a friend who told me how to not get attacked in New York.

She was walking down the street once, at night, and a man started to follow her.

"I started hugging myself like I was crazy," she said.

"You did what?"

"Just hugging myself," she repeated. "Kind of like --" and with this she motioned with her hands "-- just bobbing, and swaying all over, talking to myself real loud, laughing."

"And did it work?"

"Of course it worked," she laughed. "Men are terrified of crazy women."

Don't know if that's true or not. But I do know that I hear the phrase "crazy woman" a lot, as in: "crazy woman boss," "crazy woman driver," "crazy mother," "crazy old lady," and so on. Pop culture is filled with stories of women being told "you're crazy" whether they're confronting a cheating boyfriend or standing up against systemic corruption and abuse.

I got to thinking about this topic today, as I saw a homeless woman on the street who looked about my age. She told me her story, and told me that she'd been homeless for years but spent her time in the public library. "I do everything I can to research my situation," she said. "I am well aware of the law."

She seemed like such an intelligent person, and it wasn't clear to me what had happened. "Is there any way you can go for some help? Can you go to a shelter?" I sat next to her on the sidewalk, sort of flailing, because I am the one percent and don't know what the hell I'm doing.

"The injustice, the injustice, the injustice," she kept on repeating. "Why can't I get some justice?"

I looked into her eyes, this woman who could have been me. "You're going to end up dead out here," I said, "and I am a total stranger and don't know anything, but why should let yourself you die out here, holding up a sign about injustice?"

We talked a bit more and she cried. Inside my heart I cried with her. Looking over at the corner, I saw people dressed nicely, having nice conversations.

"It's that time of the month," she said. "I can't even help myself out here on the street."

Her feet were so swollen they could not fit into her shoes, and one of the shoes was next to her feet while the other was on only partially.

Would a doctor say that she has mental illness? Based on the fact that she seemed out of touch with reality, probably. But then again, how does a person cope when they fall from the radar of society? When it's one thing after the other, and somehow, the system ejects you?

And what is "crazy," really? To many people, "crazy" seems to be a convenient term for "things I don't want to understand or deal with."
  • Homeless people.
  • Abused people.
  • People who have suffered from the corrupt.
  • Even themselves, when they have too much emotional pain.
We ought to be careful about throwing around this word. 

We should reserve it for clinical diagnoses.

Too many people need serious help, or they're pointing out serious issues.

Allowing them to be called "insane" deprives us of important information. And it takes away lives that could have easily been saved.

If you have time, check out this profile of a beloved Hollywood writer, who may have committed suicide due to depression.
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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/.

5 Significant Findings On Child Abuse From The U.S. Federal Government

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families has been publishing "Child Maltreatment" annually since 1992. The new edition, "Child Maltreatment 2015," is available in PDF, along with raw data tables by state. You can also access the older versions going back to 1995.

All of the following information is taken from this report and can be sourced back to it. (Note: Fiscal year 2015 means October 2014-September 2015.)

5 Significant Findings

  • The number of reports to Child Protective Services is trending upward. Yet, looking only at reports to CPS as a baseline, the actual percentage of victimized children is miniscule. This could mean that child abuse isn't happening all that much, or it could mean that it's underreported. More research is clearly needed.
  • People unrelated to the child who come into professional contact with the child are far more likely to report abuse than their relatives. Awareness campaigns should be targeted to them.
  • Infants are the most-victimized age group. More attention needs to be paid to their needs, since they cannot even speak, much less report what is happening to them.
  • Women are more likely to be reported as victimizers than men. We should not stereotype abusers by gender.
  • Neglect is by far the most prevalent form of abuse. Particularly since forms of abuse overlap, and sexual abuse is underreported, neglect can be viewed as an indicator of other kinds of abuse potentially occurring. We need not look for bruises or signs of sexual abuse.

Key Statistics

Victims

  • There was a 9% increase in the estimated number of children receiving an investigation or alternative response from CPS between 2011-2015, from 3,081,000 to 3,358,000.
  • Abut 20% of children reported to CPS were found to be victimized (683,000 out of 3.4 million) - slightly less than 1% of the overall national child population.
  • Infants aged 0-1 year were the most likely to be victimized (2.4% of general population).
  • 43.2% of victims were White, 23.6% were Hispanic and 21.4% were African-American.
  • About 75% of victims were neglected; 17% were physically abused; and 8.4% were sexually abused.
  • It is estimated that 1,670 children died of abuse and neglect; this is equivalent to 2.25 per 100,000 children nationally.

Perpetrators

  • About half a million perpetrators reported overall (522,476).
  • 83.4% were aged 18-44.
  • Slightly more than half were female (54.1%), 45% were male, and .9% were of unknown sex.
  • 48.7% were White, 20% were African-American and 19.5% were Hispanic.
  • 61.5% mistreated only one victim; 21.5% two victims; and 17% three or more.

Who Reported

Professionals who had contact with the alleged victims, not parents or other relatives, were the most likely to contact CPS.
  • 18.4% teachers
  • 18.3% anonymous and "unclassified"
  • 18.2% law enforcement
  • 18.2% friends, neighbors, relatives
  • 10.9% social services 

Technical Stuff

Definitions

Federal legislation defines child abuse and neglect as:
"Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm." (p. viii) 
There are four types of behaviors that authorities are concerned about; they happen individually or together:
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological maltreatment
  • Sexual abuse

Methodology

Data for this report comes from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). The system collects information "submitted voluntarily" by all 50 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico by their respective Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies.

Information is fed into NCANDS only from CPS reports that are referred for further action. Data includes:
  • Alleged and actual mistreatment
  • Response by CPS and services provided
  • Risk factors for child and caregivers
  • Perpetrator information
It should be noted that not all allegations deemed actionable lead to investigations; sometimes there is only alternative treatment, e.g. consultation with the family to offer assistance. Alternative treatment followups are included in this data. (p. viii-ix)

All Data Is Flawed

It should be noted that the quality of the data provided here depends on the reliability of CPS to provide it, and of the Administration for Children and Families to process it effectively. I'm not in a position to evaluate either, and so the content of the report is shared without comment as to its limitations.

If You Want To Do More With The Numbers

The government makes "restricted use files" of NCANDS data available at the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN) at Cornell University. According to the report, help is available from this resource for researchers who want to conduct statistical analyses of the data. (I have not verified this.) The contact information provided is ndacan@cornell.edu or 607–255–7799.

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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/.

The Federal Government Could Spend More Effectively On Communication

Last year the Government Accountability Office issued “Public Relations Spending” (GAO-16-877R) in response to a request from the United States Senate Committee on the Budget. The purpose of the report was to "determine how much the federal government spends on public relations activities, including contracts and internal agency support, and identify the highest-spending agencies."

"Public relations internal agency support" is defined in the report as employees classified as "public affairs specialists" (GS-1035s). Right away we have a contradiction in terms, because a public affairs specialist, as opposed to a PR professional, gives you data, not "spin." The report offers this definition of a public affairs specialist:
“Public Affairs occupational series are responsible for administering, supervising, or performing work involved in establishing and maintaining communication between federal agencies and the public. Among other things, their work includes identifying communication needs and developing informational materials on agency policies, programs, services, and activities.” (p. 8)
The GAO categorizes legitimate communication activity as follows (p. 3, language is quoted):
  • Public education and awareness
  • Customer service
  • General information and recruitment
  • Compliance with laws and policies
The table below, taken from the report, offers specific examples from various agencies.

If they do nothing else, the government's communicators can and should explain to the 325 million people who live in the United States what exactly the government did with the $3.9 trillion it spent in FY2016. (To that end, out this very neat infographic from the Congressional Budget Office.)

It is not clear how many communicators the government has on hand. In FY2014, the federal government employed 5,086 public affairs specialists, representing .28% of all federal employees; 42% of them worked for the Department of Defense. (The GAO report only counted these employees.)

However, agencies employ many other communicators, including  agency leadership, "writer-editors," information technology specialists (web content), management & program analysts, "unclassified" personnel, and others, such as policy and technical subject matter experts.

It is also not clear how much the government is spending on contract personnel engaged in public affairs work. The GAO report notes that "federal obligations for advertising and public relations contracts have, on average, been close to $1 billion annually over the past decade."

With regard to reporting on contract spending, data quality is limited. GAO notes that these contracts "do not capture the full scope of these activities" because it is possible to issue relevant contracts under other categories.

Also, I am not aware of any database that specifically distinguishes between federal contract spending on personnel (e.g. a graphic designer), and federal contract spending on personnel-related-services (e.g. a billboard).

Finally, the GAO definition of “advertising/public relations” intermingles legitimate and questionable  spending, e.g. “communication," "image-building," "to inform or persuade."

Poor evaluative data quality (note: not the quality of government data) is the main reason reason why government messaging sucks, and the government has the lowest public trust  scores ever, despite all the good work being done and despite all the money being thrown at doing it. For both internal control and accountability purposes, you've got to clearly identify what you're trying to do, what the reason is, and how much you spent on each relevant aspect of the effort. And then ask an impartial third party, how well did that work?

Here is an example of a known best practice: the annual plain language "report card" scores agencies get. Here's another: the ongoing web analytics agencies collect. But there's a limitation, though: Are we talking about the right things in the first place? Could some, or much of our content be collapsed and integrated, to make it easier and more useful for the public to access?

Which brings up another conversation we should have: whether communication should be defined as inherently governmental work. And I believe it is, for the most part: the basic definition is work "so intimately related to the public interest as to require performance by Federal Government employees."

The reality is that the federal communicator must, to do a good job, be knowledgeable about the agency's operations and culture, and be dedicated to the mission. As well, they typically also have invaluable institutional knowledge and commitment, and a familiarity with stakeholders that cannot be easily duplicated. This is a federal communicator's brand.

A contractor's primary focus, as it should be, is the amount of money they can make.

The fact that most federal communication is outsourced, in my view, makes us vulnerable to the shortcomings of all commodity products. Even if technically workable, absent the added value provided by feds' unique knowledge and commitment, they quickly turn potentially good work wasteful, even counterproductive. In other words, in effect, the contractor is a robot, subject to whoever is paying the bill, and what agencies need are critically thinking personnel. The contracting relationship simply does not provide for that. And money wasted on expensive, ill-conceived projects (the client's fault, not the contractor's) contributes to the negative perception that government communication is money wasted on fluff.

That said -- I do believe contractors can be helpful, particularly where technical knowledge is lacking. But the government relies on them far too much. As an alternative, interagency consulting is a promising area for the government to explore. When you bring in a third party from within the government to assist, you get the benefit of expertise and an  objective point of view.

The bottom line is this: To do a good job at a thing, you have to be able to measure it. Then set goals, and then determine where your work is coming up short. Right now, we aren't measuring, and we aren't counting or measuring a dedicated communication staff or chain of command -- within or across agencies. The function is not managed as a unified whole.

As such, communication spending is ripe for waste and abuse.

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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are my own. I don't represent my agency, any part of the federal government, the government as a whole, or any other individual or entity.
Updated 2:48 p.m. EST on April 11, 2017.
Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License
For more information: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/

Sex Trafficking In San Diego: What Can We Learn?

"Measuring the Nature & Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego," authored by authored by Ami Carpenter and Jamie Gates and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, was released October 26, 2016. 

Here are some of their key findings:
  • 80% of sex trafficking "facilitators" (coercive or non-coercive) were gang-affiliated. (Note the limitations of a small sample size: 139 individuals in custody were interviewed; 46 were sex trafficking facilitators; 37 of those were gang-affiliated.)
  • Law enforcement were aware of only 15-20% of the approximately 9-12,000 victims of sex trafficking annually
  • Sex trafficking there generates an estimated $.8 billion annually, second only to drugs ($4.76 billion) 
  • On average, victims enter the sex trafficking system at age 15 and are frequently recruited out of school
  • Demand is widespread, and there is no specific “type” of client 
Interestingly, most facilitators said were more like partners than the stereotypical controlling figure we see on TV. However, they may not have felt comfortable revealing the truth, since by their very nature one of the categories here (the "organized trafficking group" or OTG") is by its very nature highly secretive (and, implicitly, deadly):
  • 67% said they were revenue-sharing “enforcers-contractors,” drivers who also provide security
  • 28% identified as “traditional” pimps, keeping most or all earnings, with a pimp’s “status” & “recognition” 
  • 4% were “vicious-violent” pimps, who “use extreme tactics of physical and psychological control to force high financial quotas.”
  • None admitted to OTG membership, but many were familiar with them. These groups are secret, run by a "small core group," multinational, and trade in adults and children alike.
Just like interviewees wouldn't admit being part of an OTG, they disavowed the use of brute force, even though 14-30% of victims reported experiencing pimp violence. 
  • Economic force: 74% said they took 50% or more of the sex worker’s money. The average pimp income was $670,625 per year. 
  • Psychological force: 57% used “social and emotional isolation, induced emotional exhaustion, and degradation, including humiliation, denial of the victim's power, and name-calling.”
  • Chemical force: 42% either forced or offered drugs.
  • Violence: Only 12% said used physical and sexual tactics. 
The pimps did admit to recruiting in schools, a fact that was confirmed by actual school employees:
  • 30% of pimps either witnessed or participated in recruitment at the schools.
  • 100% of employees at 20 high schools confirmed recruitment for sex traficking on campus.
  • 90% of the schools had actual cases of sex trafficking.
  • Staffers were aware of 84 gangs known to be actively recruiting in or near campus.
A wide-ranging, three-year study, this work is a model for evidence-based public policy because it is so rich with primary data, including direct interviews with gang members, school employees, law enforcement and victim service providers about this issue.  

We need more research like this, as well as large-sample-size quantitative studies, as the researcheres themselves notes.

More study is needed in order to understand the true scope and nature of sex trafficking, particularly the trafficking of children, in America.

We can't prosecute what we can't quantify.

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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License
For more information: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/

F--- Hitler

Many of us, me included, are triggered by Shabbos and holidays like Passover; for whatever reason it brings back bad memories and we can't or won't go back there.

What exactly happened to me? I just don't know, and was trying to figure this out last night after watching an episode of the Israeli show "Prisoners of War." That (fictional) show, upon which "Homeland" is based, somehow gets me very upset every time.

The show portrays 2 Israeli soldiers who return from 17 years of captivity in Syria. The men try to get back to life, but at every step their minds are flooded by memories of the most extreme physical and psychological torture.

Nobody tortured me. Nobody did anything to me. And yet, things happened. And they weren't normal. I know this not from my own memory, which is largely blank, but from the very specific attitudes of very specific people. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is a generation of us, walking around, haunted.

Well beyond our specific homes and our specific parents there was a silent curse that hung over all of us. It is the curse of the ovens, of cattle cars, of laughing soldiers playing rape, of families stripped and starved and robbed and made to turn upon one another. It is an entire generation crying why...why me...why us. What did we do. Why did You abandon us.

Those were our grandparents, and we're in our forties now. Our parents did everything they could to apologize for being a burden. They took care of Bubbie and Zayde or Grandma and Grandpa or Oma and Opa and nobody could upset them. The Holocaust was never spoken of, it was the past and we were not to go back there. But they showed us movie after movie in school, silently screaming, look at what they did to us! Look at what they did!

There is no question that the survivors' children bore the burden. And they became sick from it, and they transmitted it to us. What should have been happy times, celebrating with family, instead became fraught with tension and worry and lies and shame. Because honestly, there were the ordinary problems, compounded by the trauma, and the fact that nobody - nobody - could break the code of silence.

I made myself a promise when I had kids. Because initially I did not set out to marry; I didn't want to pass on the trauma any further. But God has a way of making lessons out of our fears, and I did fall in love and we had children. The only thing I said to myself, over and over, was: "The sickness stops with them. It stops."

You realize as you get older that you never controlled anything. And when they grow up and leave, that point is really driven home.

"You're upset?" said my aunt, a long time ago. "Blame Hitler, that bastard. Look what he did to us."

At our small but heartfelt Seder tonight, I will be doing just that. I hate that evil man for what he did to my parents and my grandparents. I hate how he turned us into a group so fearful, we can't even stand on an orderly line for food, because we're terrified of starvation.

The truth is, I am not free. I feel it, I cry it, it is real at the cellular level. Whatever would have been me, was  melted down by what happened to my people.

Pesach, though, represents a chance to be reborn. Not bound to Hitler anymore. Not by hatred and not by decades of trauma.

To say, it's over. F--- Hitler. I will use every ounce of pain in my body to fight him. I will spend the rest of my life if I have to, fighting every single thing that he represents: hatred, dictatorship and the abuse of vulnerable people.

F--- you, Hitler.

We made it, thank God.

You lost.

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 By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License For more information: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/

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