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New York’s child abuse hot line can shield false complaints

 

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=826481&TextPage=1

 

By CASEY SEILER COMMENTARY

First published in print: Friday, July 31, 2009

 Someone is saying terrible things about Nicole Rera.

What’s worse, they’re saying them to the state of New York via the hot line set up to collect anonymous reports of child abuse.

So far, none of the three sets of complaints against Rera, who lives in Gloversville, have been substantiated; the first two have been officially recognized as “unfounded,” while the third is still under investigation.

Rera’s trouble started in January, after she separated from her husband. The couple, originally from Long Island, had been together for 10 years and married for three. Rera says the marriage became increasingly stormy, leading to her decision to move from Florida back to New York with her three children, ages 6 to 10. Rera’s daughter and two sons have conditions that put them on different points of the spectrum for autism.

Not long after she initially settled in Troy, Rera was visited by investigators from Rensselaer County’s Child Protective Services, who said that a call had been referred from the state abuse hot line alleging that she had committed acts of sexual and physical abuse against the children.

Those charges were determined to be unfounded; a few weeks later, another complaint was received, investigated and classified as unfounded. A third complaint was made in May.

“It’s hell,” Rera said. “It’s frustrating. It’s living on pins and needles waiting for these people to show up.”

Needless to say, family services investigators don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which complaints to follow up on: They’re legally obligated to respond to every complaint of possible abuse. And that’s how it should be.

The baroque nature of the complaints against Rera — I’ll spare you the details, which are stomach-churning — suggest they come from someone with knowledge of family medical history. (Rera is unable to work due to various ailments, and lives on Medicaid and Social Security benefits, along with SSI payments to support her children.)

Rera’s husband could not be reached, either through conventional means or a database search.

Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally says his office doesn’t currently have sufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone for filing a false abuse claim against Rera. In a two-decade career, McNally has never seen anyone charged with filing a false abuse claim.

There are two predominant reasons. First, the intentional filing of a bogus complaint is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail — a crime, to be sure, but not one likely to draw much attention from local enforcement agencies with limited resources and long to-do lists.

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Also, it’s nearly impossible to build a strong case that someone is abusing the system. Even after a complaint is determined to be unfounded, it would have to be flagged as either egregiously false or part of a pattern. Then local investigators would have to track the complaint back up the chain by matching phone records to the state hot line’s intentionally incomplete records. In order to preserve anonymity, the hot line itself makes no record of the incoming phone number, although the agency does note the time a complaint is received.

But even if law enforcement can link a complaint to a specific phone, they’ll still have to prove the identity of the person using it at that moment.

Like all systems that rely on guarantees of anonymity, from the Internet to government whistleblower programs, the abuse hot line is itself open to a different sort of abuse. The greater-good argument, however, is fairly bulletproof: Even people kind-hearted enough to call the authorities — about hearing terrible sounds coming from the apartment upstairs, or the unexplained bruises on the child who lives next door — need to be assured that an alleged abuser isn’t going to try to exact retribution against them.

Similarly, it’s hard to determine when multiple reports from the same source constitute a pattern of lies. If the fifth complaint turns out to be genuine, it doesn’t necessarily mean the first four weren’t bogus.

Regardless of how many intentionally false claims are made every year — the number could be dozens or hundreds — it’s certain that every one takes time away from the pursuit of genuine cases of abuse.

Any effective solution would have to protect the anonymity of callers to the hot line. A partial remedy the state could take immediately would be to reclassify an intentional false report — something clearly done with malicious motive — as a Class E felony, which would have a deterrent effect on perpetrators and could go a long way to encourage prosecutors.

The state hot line can be reached at (800) 342-3720. If you think a child is being abused, use it. But if you’re thinking of using it to get back at someone, do us all a favor and find another method.

Casey Seiler can be reached at 454-5619 or by e-mail at cseiler@timesunion.com

 

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4 Comments

    • REGINA WELLINGTON
    • Posted December 23, 2010 at 4:07 pm
    • Permalink

    when do this system out of control be stopped we the families need justice and all the butt covering and sending them into other agencies and giving them different titiles has to stop what is this acs-cps -dss that they can year after year abuse families and keep getting pats on the back and larger incentives to rip families apart while our courts allow them to contuine with the wickedness of viopations agains a society no one cares about their well being.we have been in this wicked agency for over 21 years trying to become free and we have yet to reach the gold.my sister was abused and damaged so badly until she greavied her self to death their is nothing worst then having your children taken and you can not prove you did nothing.the judge in this case so she calls her self does nothing except look out the court room window the whole while the court is in session yet we can not get justice over the hundredths of agencies we have contacted they refere us back to the abusers and we are still struggling to retreive back our blessing from god the children my daught has been trying for 11 years to get out of this agency known as saint christpher ottile located in glen clove long island main office and the hell hole in brooklyn new york the fraud coming out that brooklyn office on fulton street needs to be closed down yet evenafter they changed their name over to sco family of services in 2005 their actions of fraud still remain and as the director told me she did not give a {F}ABOUT NO RULES LAWS OR ANYTHING ELSE SHE DID AS SHE PLEASE and that is how it has been 11 years is a long time not to be able to get your children back the case worker zorina canta stated her and the acs as she calls her self christina walden were going to make sure we never got the children back and this far we are still trying.you can be called in if a person do not like the way you speake to them or they do not like your looks or any thing they feel you become their target and albany goes along with what ever is did and as the queens case worker told my self and daughter we were tainted and we are all in the family black listed it has affected all areas of our lives we have no contact with the children all communication has been stopped also the father is still using drugs and he gets to have contact with the children they spend the night all else yet we are banished all circumvented be acs new york city and broome county dss upstate new york these people that call them selfs helpers of families are cesspools in over fill and that is to kind for them to be called when you have been accused and the only reason you are held is because you do not work for one of these agents and you do not know any of the big people to polly with so you are the food that keeps them happy and going on vacation going to the best of schools getting the best medical treatment wearing the name brand cloths paying us as their nannys yet we are called not fit to child rear our own they give native americans holly hell in this so called foster care system.there was no child abuse as they had charged me with yet they used the door opener as sex abuse once unfounded there should have been nothing else to complain about yet it turned into all their charges founded and they gave me 28 years more then a murder gets.this was broome countys way of getting rid of as spoken by case worker valeris hough new york cities mess.she waited from may 23 2007 to august 6th 2007to say i had been telling everyone three children out of seven were having sex and i was shocked beyond words to here such and why wasn’t all taken since i was making this type statement to everyone i encounted,this has been as ongoing nightmare for this family and trying to get meaningful justice has proven to be even harder and it has taken its toll on my health and the suffering of my daughter is far beyond any thing one would beleive another could endure for 11 years and four years for me they broome county used a past bad faith act of me making a phone call for my boyfriend at the time that was an informant for the police to charge me with a crime just a phone call unbeknowing to me was a set up if you know any thing about rats they have to keep the police happy and i was his happy pill so now it after 28 years come back to kick me in the face again and broome county used it an article 23 of new york state.i have lost so very much since coming to this for saken county they were going to sell our home in a secret meeting where they sell the land and you get set on the street i complained to crime victims they told me it was only harrassment in the second degree there has been so much did to this family in the past four years until we know only god is keeping us through it all we keep praying for the turning point and 2011 is it for us and other families thank god for favor and keeping us all some times i almost feel like giving up and the holly spirit will come to me and say hold on god has not for gotten you or your loved ones and i go another day pondering on life.LIVING IN FAITH EVERY DAY and it has kept us all,yes i get tired yet the gifts from god are worth fighting for if we quit then who will speak for the selient voices of our blessings no one under the sun so we keep prayerful praise MY FATHER FOR HIS SON AND MY SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST I MUST KEEP THE FAITH. and i will be praying others will do the same,god bless to all and keep thee as he has our family.EVANGE.REGINA WELLINGTON

    • REGINA WELLINGTON
    • Posted December 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm
    • Permalink

    I misspelled violations and left off the t on against please and possibley some other small errars please over look this posting the events in our lives is all new to me.thank you sister11212@facebook.com

    • Anonymous
    • Posted August 3, 2011 at 6:07 am
    • Permalink

    we the families find every day another push back in getting justice in the broome county area while praying for release of our children from their evil hands this has got to stop they have used every thing complained about for retaliation in these proceedings the willfull abuse of laws is has got to the point that you feel like all the life have been sucked out your body. and no one gives fried orions about what they do we have tryed to receive help and everyone keeps hiding the fact this is enslavement of the new age the masters are now the persons voted into office that refuse to reform these so called social services laws sucking up our children while they play forster parents to our stolen children loved ones god should smote them all where they gather for their evilness and inflicted emotional torture of just certain races the courts prolong justices while they all sleep together in sin they are the killing machines of america or what is left of it they are taking children by the thousands per month without releasing anyone from their evil willfull abuse.

    • Anonymous
    • Posted May 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm
    • Permalink

    Florida’s abuse line is similar to New York’s. I have had 13 false accusations against me since 2009, when I separated from my abusive ex. I had a restraining order and this was the only way to get back at me. I know that children are abused everyday, so they have to make it easy to file. But, there has to be some way to provide relief to those who are being harrassed. Our courts wouldn’t prosecute my ex, even though he admitted to it in court.


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