Child Exploitation Cracks in the Floor
Two years ago, the Masha Allen story sent shock waves through the adoption and child welfare community in the United States and Russia. Since then Masha’s story, which is recounted on my blog and elsewhere, has become the case study for not only everything that is wrong with the international adoption system, but everything that is wrong with the domestic adoption system, the child welfare system, the war on child pornography, access to civil justice by child victims, the guardianship and conservatorship system . . .
Masha is the case study for basically everything that is wrong with every system designed to help severely abused and exploited children.
Sadly, very few of the institutions seemingly dedicated to Masha and the countless other internationally trafficked children are even willing to acknowledge the problems let alone begin the fiscally painful task of “reforming the system.”
Certainly not the National Council for Adoption which has powerful con$tituencie$ to protect. Immediately after last year’s Congressional hearing on Masha Allen’s international adoption, I asked the representatives of NCFA who were present to issue a statement in support of Masha and other victims like her. Not surprisingly, over a year later, NCFA has failed to utter one word on this topic.
Then there is the Joint Council on International Children’s Services which was also well-represented at the Congressional hearing. When I filed a formal complaint against the international adoption agency that arranged Masha’s adoption, JCICS allowed Reaching Out Thru International Adoption to quickly and quietly resign instead of facing investigation. ROTIA recently changed their name to ChildPromise, Inc. and rejoined JCICS less then six months after my complaint was dismissed. So much for peer oversight.
Jeannene Smith, who Committee Chairman Ed Whitfiled said played a “central role in Mancuso’s adoption of Masha,” continues her work in the international adoption field as treasurer of the reform group Focus on Adoption. She continued working at ROTIA even after the Congressional panel called for her to be jailed, brazenly attending the Ethica / Evan B Donaldson Ethics and Accountability conference in October where she was booed once by one person, but otherwise allowed to enjoy the regalement unmolested.
Smith’s Congressman, Mike Ferguson, summed up Masha’s – and many other child victim’s – life best when he intoned that “what is even more frightening, however, is the number of times that her situation was overlooked. . . . No one called to speak to her, no one made sure she was getting along with her new father, no one seemed to really care if she was being taken care of at all.”
Perhaps Congressman Dr. Michael C. Burgess said it best when he lamented that “the system failed this child repeatedly for a number of years. . . . but I got a feeling from this panel in front of us, some people are more responsible than others. It is a bad case. I will be surprised if there wasn’t litigation. I don’t understand why someone is not in jail.”
Regrettably the only person in jail is Matthew Mancuso, even while “the system” continues to fail Masha repeatedly in ways unimaginable even to those who supposedly know her best.
According to Masha’s Russian forever-sister-by-birth Oksana, almost everything about the mythology of Masha’s orphan life in Russia is a lie. She was never removed from her mother by state officials. Although heavy drinkers, Masha’s parents never abused her. Most shockingly, Masha was not stabbed in the neck, but had a birth mark which was surgically removed at the age of two months leaving a scar.
At the last of then 17 year old Oksana’s numerous visits to the orphanage where Masha was staying, she was told that her lucky sister had been adopted by a loving American family with a wife and daughter, that it was “all for the best,” and that she should leave Masha alone to enjoy her fabulous new life in America.
Author Peter Sotos, the first person convicted for child pornography in the United States, knowingly contemplates Masha’s neck scar in his recently published book Show Adult which contains dozens of pages about what he calls the “child porn star Masha Allen.”
Sotos writes, “when I finally found the pictures of her being homeraped by Mr. Mancuso, I had no idea that she had been knifed by her mother when only three years old. I didn’t see the scar, I think it would have made an impression but I’m sure I would have thought it was simply some childhood ailment surgery that may have been connected to her crossed eyes and otherwise white slip looks.”
Efforts to stop publication of this book were spearheaded by the international adoption parent group Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption whose motto is “improving the lives of children.” After a great deal of back and forth with someone named Butterfly (ironically the symbol of the international pedophile movement), many FRUA members called for a national boycott of the Sotos book with repeated unanswered calls to Oprah, Fox News and Dr. Laura.
Finally in mid-July, someone called “New Member” suggested that FRUA discontinue its commercial relationship with Amazon, “not that this would hurt Amazon much, but it seems a little strange that FRUA’s Book Store is sending customers to a retailer who’s selling this book.”
A FRUA administrator responded “Ummmm . . . at this point Amazon has not sold this book. Only listed it for sale WHEN it is published. A lot can change between now and then. . . . At such time if Amazon does really offer this book for sale then the FRUA BoD will discuss the matter. . . . So don’t condemn Amazon until they have actually done something that may be wrong. The possibility of wrong doing is not cause to drop them at this time. Do continue to put the pressure on them to encourage them, and the others, to do the right thing.”
“Encourage them, and the others, to do the right thing” . . . fine words indeed. Even inspiring, high-minded, righteous. Well apparently these words are just that since anyone can easily order Show Adult from the only publisher still carrying the book – Amazon.com. In fact, I just ordered it from the Amazon.com FRUA book store. So much for “improving the lives of children.” How about “improving the bottom line of pedophile publishers and authors?” Sadly, not much has “changed between now and then,” for Masha or the countless others deserving improvement.
At least FRUA dealt with the issue. When I wrote the Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute Adam Pertman last spring expressing my concern about the Sotos “picture book of Masha Allen ‘child porn star’ complete with a novel about her abuse written from the abuser’s perspective,” Pertman sent polite greetings and then wished me the best with “the important work” I continue to do. He then returned to the apparently much more important work of rallying the adoption community to boycott the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons.
Clearly much of “the system,” even when awake and fully oriented in all spheres, has no idea how to handle cases like Masha’s. Or maybe they just don’t want to. Ignore it and hope it goes away. It’s too dark, too negative, too icky for the warm and fuzzy Home-for-the-Holidays-carefully-constructed-adoption-ethos.
When exploitation leads to exploitation upon exploitation the simple answer is to give up, pass the case along, shuffle papers, hope for the best. A little prayer and a little faith, mixed with some CYA and a good dose of public relations, can turn even the nastiest tale into the American dream.
That’s clearly what Mary Beth Buchanan, US attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, did when she told CNN on May 14, 2005 that after the FBI rescued Masha from Matthew Mancuso “they then immediately placed the girl in a foster home, and after she was adopted by a family, they moved her out of Pennsylvania.”
A few weeks later, on June 8, 2005, Buchanan told CNN Insight’s Jonathan Mann that Masha “has been adopted by a very loving family who has changed her name and moved her to another part of the country, where she can make a new start and have a very, very wonderful life ahead of her.” Mann’s response: “That’s astounding!”
Since then Masha’s astounding and very, very wonderful life has included five name changes, six schools, and ten addresses across two states and four counties. To date the system has continually failed Masha repeatedly for a number of years. As Masha once said, “you expect me to trust the system after all they’ve done to me?”
Quite simply “the system” – EVERY system – is unable and unwilling to deal with the incredible needs of internationally trafficked children like Masha.
When kidnapped Austrian girl Natascha Kampusch, who was imprisoned by a pedophile for 8 years, was rescued, she received $665,000 from the Austrian criminal injuries compensation board and all the costs of her medical care including a team of psychiatrists who worked around-the-clock to help her get back to a normal life in a special house where a medical team remained on duty full-time for over a year.
When Masha was rescued, she was placed with a young single foster parent with her own history of sexual abuse, given an unlicensed Christian therapist and a Medicaid card. When the FBI reportedly “moved her to another part of the country” a few months after her adoption, Masha was taken from the only community she knew and her thin support system was shattered. She began an unstable lifestyle which continues to this day. No therapists, no medical team, no house or meaningful compensation. Just a prayer and a press release and a one way ticket to nowhere.
Unfortunately Masha is not alone in this disturbing plight. Right after Masha’s story aired on ABC Primetime, William D. Peckenpaugh was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually abusing a boy he adopted from Romania. The sexual abuse, which lasted for four years, started within weeks after Peckenpaugh arrived home with the boy in Oregon.
When the State Department found out about Peckenpaugh, they strongly advised the Marion County deputy district attorney to redact any mention of international adoption from all press releases relating to the case. Warnings of vague “international repercussions” were not enough to recast the truth – at least not in this case.
In June 2005, a pastor from St. Paul, Oregon named David Charles Gilmore, was sentenced in Marion County Circuit Court to 19 years for sexually abusing a nine-year-old girl he adopted from Russia. Gilmore, who was married, is a gifted pianist and cellist who sought and received donations from the community to adopt the victim. He also performed concerts of Russian music to raise funds.
Clearly, passing trafficked children from the international adoption system to the law enforcement system to the domestic adoption system is a recipe for disaster. Add criminal sex abuse and pornographic exploitation to this toxic mix and the result is a lifetime of suffering for victims whose emotional problems, like Masha’s, often go ignored and untreated for years.
International adoption, child pornography, and human trafficking are multi-billion dollar industries in this country. Until we begin to create a system which honestly and meaningfully deals with the victims of these human rights abuses, children will continue to be exploited with impunity. The well worn chorus of “deny, deflect and defend” can not be allowed to drown out the voices of children who suffer in the name of adoption, privacy, child welfare or anything else.
No well-wishing or hoping or sincerely intentioned desire that some other “system” take care of these victims is adequate. Instead of a Lifetime made-for-television happy ending, victims like Masha don’t just fall through the cracks; there are no cracks because there is no floor.