Author Archives: Roger Canaff

About Roger Canaff

Roger Canaff is a widely known child protection and anti-violence against women advocate, legal expert, author and public speaker. Mr. Canaff, a practicing attorney, has devoted his legal career to the eradication of violence against women and children, first as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, Virginia then as a Special Victims ADA in the Bronx, New York, and then as an Assistant Attorney General with the state of New York in their Sex Offender Management Unit. In June, 2009, he joined the U.S. Department of the Army as a Highly Qualified Expert training and advising Judge Advocate General (JAG) military prosecutors on sexual assault and other special victims cases. With over 10 years experience, he has prosecuted cases involving sexual and physical abuse against children and adolescents, and also sexual assault against adults, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Mr. Canaff served in the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, a unit of the National District Attorneys Association in Alexandria, Virginia for two years between assignments as an ADA. He continues to provide training and speak publicly to other attorneys, medical experts, law enforcement officers, victim advocates and the public on all issues related to the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and sexual assault. Currently he serves on the Board of Directors as president of End Violence Against Women, International (EVAW), an organization that provides training, technical assistance, research and advocacy. He has also been featured in two multi-media resource tools, one a training video sponsored by the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) on presenting medical evidence in sexual assault trials, and the other an interactive DVD-ROM produced under the U.S. Department of Justice, President’s DNA Initiative, on developing testifying skills as a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner.

To Al Lord: Listen to the PennState Community. Sit down. Shut Up.

Be it blessing or curse, our hyper-connected world allows formerly obscure persons to make sudden and universally recognized asses of themselves. Enter Albert Lord, a member of the Board of Trustees for Penn State University. His comments about Jerry Sandusky’s victims, rightly called out by the website Onward State, were despicable, as was Lord’s pathetic attempt to clarify them when given a chance to recant. Driving Lord’s apparent determination to make himself a repugnant and deranged sounding public fool is his fulminating defense of Graham Spanier, the former president of PSU, recently convicted for child endangerment.

Spanier is a remarkable immigrant success story, a survivor of physical child abuse himself,  and a brilliant man. But he was successfully prosecuted for child endangerment because that’s exactly what he did. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s case was carefully crafted to track a simple statute and it did so with precision.

Spanier was shown to have colluded- there is no other word for it- with two truly odious individuals, former Assistant Vice-President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley. All were personally knowledgeable of suspected child victimization by Sandusky in 1998. Curley and Schultz were then faced with an eyewitness account of child rape by then grad- student Mike McQueary in 2001. Their response- the one they personally involved Spanier in- was to abandon an earlier plan to report Sandusky to authorities. Instead, they “reported” him to the charity he created, Second Mile, and told him not to bring children into PSU facilities. You can let that sink in, but it got worse, eight years and several victims later, when Curley and Schultz perjured themselves by telling risible lies to a Grand Jury about what McQueary told them.

The same investigative Grand Jury lied to by Curley and Schultz recommended perjury charges against Spanier as well. These charges might have gone forward on all three had the testimony of Cynthia Baldwin, a former attorney for PSU, not been ruled inadmissible due to a legal technicality. In that testimony, Baldwin excoriated Spanier, calling him a dishonest man who lied to her about what he knew and when he knew it. Along with Schultz and Curley, Spanier may have stonewalled a subpoena request from that Grand Jury for 16 months.

Spanier has repeatedly painted himself as attenuated from the obvious perfidy of Curley and Schultz, a stressed-out administrator facing multiple crises and perhaps making a regrettable call with little information.

This is common claptrap.

But to pretend that it has any merit whatsoever is not only insulting but downright dangerous. I say dangerous because, if men like Spanier, or Curley and Schultz- who in my mind continued to perjure themselves in Spanier’s trial- are allowed to create a shred of doubt in the minds of any of us about the indefensibility of their actions, then the occurrence of another gross institutional failure and the destruction of innocent lives is that much more likely.

The callow parsing of what words were used by whom, batted between these three men (and also Joe Paterno himself) must find no purchase. Did they know the full scope of Jerry Sandusky’s sophistication as a predator and the depth of what he was doing? No, and it doesn’t matter. What they knew, first about the 1998 case and then from McQueary, clearly demanded a report to authorities trained and tasked with investigating child abuse. The deliberate choice all three men made to abandon a simple plan to refer a possibly dangerous man to civil authorities was preposterous, wanton and immoral. It was also illegal.

Among the more ridiculous excuses they’ve made through lawyers is how careful they felt they had to be because of how loved and respected Sandusky was. Actually, Graham, Gary and Tim, Sandusky’s stature is exactly why you needed to act with more vigilance. A report to the Department of Public Welfare for an appropriate investigation would not have meant abandoning or betraying Sandusky. It would have been the right thing to do, and also the only lawful thing. Spanier is perhaps less morally guilty than the lying scum he colluded with for the sake of a football program. But he is equally criminally guilty, and his guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The best thing Al Lord can do in the wake of that is to keep his vile mouth shut. I tend to think the vast majority of the Penn State community, valiantly facing this failure head-on so it’s not repeated elsewhere, would appreciate that.

For support, information, and to help with regard to the fight against the sexual abuse of boys, please visit www.malesurvivor.org (full disclosure: I serve on its Board of Directors), or www.1in6.org. 

 

What Putting Steve Bannon in the Oval Office Says to Survivors of Domestic Violence

Steve Bannon, appointed by Donald Trump as his “chief strategist,” was charged in 1996 with domestic violence and witness tampering for 1) grabbing the throat and wrist of his then wife (a charge corroborated by the responding officer who saw the injuries) and then 2) apparently threatening her with destitution (or worse) if she didn’t leave the jurisdiction so she couldn’t be called as a witness against him.

I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a prosecutor, a consultant, a legal expert, a teacher and an advocate, fighting to end violence against women and children.

So yes, I find the idea of giving this thug unlimited and unmatched influential access to the President of the United States insulting, to say the least.

But my service and my experiences can and should be held cheap, in terms of this vile choice and its effect on me, next to that of every woman beaten, savaged, threatened and ultimately silenced by a man.

One such man will now be at the ear of the most powerful person in the world for at least the next four years, and will report to work regularly within steps of the Oval Office.

 

 

David Brooks, Please Don’t Assume What I “Get” on Gun Control as a Progressive

iStock_000011104157_ExtraSmallIn his latest column, focusing on various afflictions plaguing the American working class, David Brooks had this to say about gun control:

“It’s a culture [the American working class] that celebrates people who are willing to fight to defend their honor. This is something that progressives never get about gun control. They see a debate about mass murder, but for many people guns are about a family’s ability to stand up for itself in a dangerous world.”

I am a progressive, depending on how one defines the term. I also grew up largely as a part of, and certainly surrounded by, the American working class.

I can say with confidence there is nothing I don’t “get” where the enthusiasm for owning firearms is concerned, despite Brooks’ blunt and stereotypical accusation. Like many people who lean left as I do politically, I absolutely understand, and in most cases honor, the desire of individuals to protect themselves and their families. I would not seek to prevent Americans from owning firearms within common sense limitations, the details of which are beyond the scope of this piece.

But please, David, don’t tell me I simply “don’t get” what guns are to the working class or anyone else. I do. What I also “get” is that, unfortunately, far too many of them (along with people in other demographic groups, like Donald Trump) are not plain-spoken, responsible men and women wanting to protect their families. Instead, they are gun fetishists who believe- with adolescent naivety and emotion-driven fantasy- that guns are shields and not swords. With inattention to facts and utter blindness to human experience, they nevertheless assert that that arming everyone, everywhere, is the answer to preventing the kind gun violence that, in fact, stems from the proliferation of those very same guns.

Justice and Beauty. A Last, Full Measure

TeresaShe was sharp. She was tough. She was deeply kind.

She was resplendent in red.

She was a loud, happy harmony of Italian-American toughness, soft skin and sweetness, belly laugher and beautiful, dark eyes. She was flirty. She was flinty. She was piercingly honest.

She was uncompromising when it came to the truth. She understood what we generally call evil, but far more than that, she understood that we don’t yet know exactly what evil is. With that blessed and rare knowledge, she knew we had to step lightly.

But still, she knew, we had to step forward.

Teresa Scalzo was the most accomplished and respected legal expert when it came to the prosecution of sexual violence in the U.S. She changed everything; the expertise she developed as a sex crimes prosecutor in her corner of northeastern Pennsylvania became first a national challenge and then a national standard. She came of age in a time when- understandably- some leaders of the anti-sexual violence movement were turning away from prosecution as an answer to sexual violence.

Their objections to what we do were valid, of course. America, as I say increasingly in lectures, and as Teresa knew before me, doesn’t have a criminal justice system. It has a criminal adjudication system. Justice is an ideal, a state of blessed balance in human interaction, a satisfying sense of rightness embedded somehow in our common ancestry. It’s funny, actually; for all of the education and drilling we lawyers put ourselves through, what we end up striving for our entire professional lives is something toddlers grasp as they would a toy key ring. And yet this deeply human, deeply shared sense of simple rightness is also as elusive as a rainbow.

The elusiveness of justice is no more pronounced then where crimes of sexual violence are concerned. The subject itself- sex- is hopelessly tangled in thousands of years of mystery and shame, pleasure and violence, life and death. There has never been a phenomenon so central to human existence and yet so shrouded, so guarded, so punished. The punishers have been- cross culturally- mostly men. For millennia they’ve been simultaneously intoxicated by and terrified of the power of women. It’s been less even about sex than about the female embodiment of it, the women who bled but did not die, who brought forth life from swollen bellies and then fed it from their breasts, these goddesses who could erase the mind of a conqueror with a smile, or a frown. These creatures, the thinking has gone, must be controlled. Demonized. Marginalized. Our desire for them, the thinking has gone, must be projected. Sanitized. Excused.

Teresa understood these dynamics. The ancient ones. The current ones. The fact that they’re all really the same. What she fought for most ardently, though, was the redemption of the only system we have- in the most advanced society in the world- to deal with sexual violence. Teresa fought for the relevance of prosecution to the fight against rape. She did this not because she thought the system was perfect or ever could be; rather, she fought for it because she knew it was all we have. The law, at bottom, is our only living embodiment of the public will. For rape victims, the civilized response is about the system we have: The police, the advocates, the nurses, the prosecutors. Teresa looked at this system, and she knew she could make it better.

She was right.

Our system is far better now then when Teresa Scalzo started to make it better. It has a long way to go, but every step it takes moving forward, it takes with her legacy as its power.

I was in awe of this woman, this goddess, this marvelous mixture of seriousness and red wine hangovers, of wisdom and joy, of scholarship and instinct, of hope and frustration. She taught me everything. She vouched for me as a man in a woman’s world, which was so ironic because we both initially inhabited a man’s world- prosecution- that Teresa nevertheless took over where sexual assault was concerned through will, sincerity and raw skill.

I strove every day to keep in step with her, always behind but always inspired.

And then she died. But not before giving the last, full measure of everything she was- and dear God that was so much- to what we do in the service of the women and men whose lives are torn apart by sexual violence. What we do now, we do largely in her honor, and through her legacy.

I know now in middle age what an elusive ideal justice is, and I am sadder for it. But I also know what beauty is. I know how the shadows of existence are shot through with it, and how it expresses itself to us, as I believe God does.

T, you were beautiful. Thank you.