Friday, October 06, 2006

Taking Action for Victims' Rights

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The tragedy of the Ducketts encompasses the full account of that family’s tribulations: the pains of divorce, the grief for a lost son, the shock of a mother’s suicide. And we’ve yet to reach the denouement: where, now, is Trenton?

“The Media is Always a Friend”

In the month that these previous acts have played out, the media establishment has been far from kind in its analysis, particularly from the likes of proclaimed victims’ rights advocates Nancy Grace and Marc Klaas, who both have been closely following this story. Unlike Grace, Klaas has actively committed himself to making a difference in protecting victims—our children. His daughter, Polly Klaas, was kidnapped and murdered in 1993; he now works to "give meaning to Polly's death,” and to “create a legacy in her name that will be protective of children for generations to come by pursuing the singular mission of stopping crimes against children,” as quoted from, a nonprofit Klaas began to help parents find their missing children.

But viscerally similar to his CNN counterpart, Marc Klaas recently had choice words to say and hateful assumptions to strew concerning Melinda Duckett and the Media:

“In these kinds of cases the media is never the problem. The media is always a friend…. It’s about working with the media and it’s about getting over that hump that people are looking at you. And quite frankly, Melinda is not doing that very well at all.”
(Nancy Grace 9/8/06)
“I’m beginning to think that this was an extremely evil woman who was diabolical, vindictive. She seemed to cause great damage to anyone who came anywhere near her. She told her parents that they didn’t understand her. She let her grandparents find her bloody corpse. She did those things to her husband. And this little boy is absolutely missing.…
She may very well have sold that little boy for $900 that she left to her grandparents. She might have traded him.
(Nancy Grace 9/26/06)

“Well, and you have a crazy woman, too, an evil, crazy woman.”
(Nancy Grace 9/28/06)

Evil, crazy, diabolical, vindictive, able to cause great damage, and she’s apparently also a saleswoman.

Marc Klaas: Intent and Impact

While we are proud of Klaas for his commitment to protecting our children, we do need to fault him for his indecency in defending the media’s role in the onslaught of the Ducketts and in further terrorizing Melinda. We need to fault Klaas because we want to see this media parade stopped; we want him to change his ways, and to continue focusing on helping the victims instead of victimizing the helpless.

But it follows that we now need to be on the defensive: for someone to hold such moral convictions, but in the same breath to also display such truly despicable and dehumanizing contentions, is a sign for concern. What exactly is going on in Marc Klaas’s head?

We need to be concerned that his convictions to help the victims—our children—are translating into effective efforts to stop criminals. And we should start concerning ourselves with his programs, beginning with


Marc Klaas founded, a nonprofit public benefit corporation based in California, in 2001, with the intention to “provide law enforcement agencies with a secure, Internet based system to create and distribute missing child flyers to law enforcement, the media, and public and private recipients.” This technology provides victim and abduction information immediately to law enforcement departments in the proximity of a child’s disappearance, as well as to businesses along routes of possible escape. Klaas’s nonprofit has secured over $1.5 million in grant money from the government just in the period of 2002-2004 to do this, but where exactly is the money ending up? 50% of it went to compensation and employee benefits. The other half is a little harder to pinpoint (PDF: 1,2,3).

BeyondMissing itself states that its technology has “assisted law enforcement in the search for a total of 221 missing children,” and “as of April 2006, 186 children have been found, and 35 children remain missing.” But the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) cites studies showing that, in a 1-year period of time, 797,500 children are reported missing. That’s 2,100 children each day on average.

In a total of 5 years, Klaas’s nonprofit has assisted 1/10th of the average number of missing children reported in one day.

Moreover, BeyondMissing has only 95 children listed as missing in the United States today.

Compare this with other endeavors implemented without a dime in donations or funding: the National Voice For Children (NVFC), for instance, gives another forum for families to post information about their missing children. The NVFC offers a system able to be updated by users via comments where families can communicate news directly and efficiently to the public domain regarding their case. The simplicity and ease through which families find use in the NVFC shows in the numbers: it has assisted 2153 children in coming home safely since inception in 2005. NVFC had 93 missing children listed in only the first 2 weeks of operation, and with time and effort it has only expanded the options available to help victims.

It was even through the NVFC that Melinda Duckett first made attempts to deposit case information for Trenton on the internet, on September 4th, 2006.

NVFC exemplifies the power of grassroots activism, and makes one wonder what exactly is being done for the children with the funding from Klaas’s nonprofit. Indeed, while the dissemination of information to law enforcement agencies and local businesses is a great idea, it is seeing a paucity of use and, sadly, is wasted potential.

KlaasKids Foundation

Marc Klaas’s other endeavor, the KlaasKids Foundation, was established in 1994 to also “give meaning to the death of twelve-year-old kidnap and murder victim Polly Hannah Klaas, and to create a legacy in her name that would be protective of children for generations to come.” Initiated with a meager $2000, its pockets are now lined almost entirely with donations made from the general public: $778,682 during 2000-2003 alone (PDF: 1).

But looking at the KlaasKids website does not necessarily fill one with assurance that much is being done with that money. Portions of the website have not been updated for years, such as the “New” newsletter of Summer 2004, or info sheets copyrighted in 1998. Basically, the website offers detailed information about child safety that need not ever be updated, as it currently stands. One of the only interactive activities offered on the website is the “Child Identification Packet (PDF),” which acts as a bare outline for fingerprinting one’s own children and encourages parents to keep samples of their children’s cheek tissue, blood, and baby teeth. Somehow, asking parents to keep blood and teeth in the freezer does not appear to be the best use of ~$200,000 in donations per year.

KlaasKids is often not even in charge of any event planning; instead, the foundation will ask for sponsors (community-minded businesses) and will then assist the sponsors in brainstorming for their local events, and will offer ideas on how to advertise and how to find volunteers. The community is the one putting in the effort, the planning, the location, the volunteers, the advertisements, and when the hard work is done Klaas comes in with his “Sentry Kids SK3000” machine that fingerprints and takes pictures of the children. For the latest fingerprinting-bonanza, “Print-A-Thon”, businesses are encouraged to “earn the respect of customers, community leaders, peers and employees for less than the price of a direct mailing.” Why shouldn’t the foundation defray the costs?

Promoting Action through Communication

Klaas’s two programs, and the KlaasKids Foundation, suffer from inaction. They’ve both successfully accrued a large pool of funding, yet both seem unsure of what exactly to do with it. Active communication with law enforcement and the greater community would greatly assist their goals.

One need only look toward another Nancy Grace episode to prove this point:

On December 28th, 2005, Nancy Grace pleaded with the nation to help find or to offer information regarding a missing 13-year-old from California, Diana Gama, and informed viewers to contact the local police department or with any information they may have had. This puzzled Steven Eckmann, founder of NVFC, who had recently contacted the PD and received the information that Gama was recovered on November 26th of that same year, after being missing for a total of three days. It seems Grace was slightly misinformed, and in turn misinformed the entire nation.

The worst part?, where we assume Grace received her information, listed Diana Gama as missing for 9 whole months before the case was correctly updated. Of the few children that are listed on BeyondMissing, it’s quite possible that there are other situations similar to Diana Gama’s.

A program which exclusively provides “high speed communication tools” does not sit on its hands for 9 months. Open lines of communication between Klaas’s project and law enforcement would have easily prevented this situation, and for the tax dollars that are supporting it, we should expect nothing less.

But Klaas needs to also reach out more to the community for his ideas to be implemented. Why are there only 95 children listed as missing? Why haven’t more families of the 2100 children reported missing each day flocked to BeyondMissing? Why isn’t KlaasKids doing more than fingerprinting our youth, doing more to reach out to our communities nationwide, and doing more to get the information out and into our reach? Instead of actively pursuing our interests and our concerns, both programs idly wait for us to find them, and it is not effective.

What's Next for Marc Klaas?

Marc Klaas has great intentions; we definitely cannot fault him for wanting to do good in our communities. But the impact he has leaves a lot to be desired. We ask these things of Marc Klaas:

* Use the money in both of your projects’ coffers and some ingenuity to foster active communication with law enforcement agencies, and to keep your database of missing children up to date.

* Reach out more to our communities. Update your websites with current newsletters and actively pursue our interest.

* Utilize your influence and spotlight in the media to stop value-based assessments that destroy families, and stand up to Nancy Grace when she wants to make and encourage them.

* Help the Ducketts find Trenton. Set up a center to aid in the search. It’s the least you can do for Trenton after the pain you and others caused his family.

Marc Klaas, the Ducketts deserve better, the victims deserve better, and our children deserve better. We want better. And we are waiting.

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