McDonald’s Fatal Marketing Flaw and How to Fix It

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 30, 2015 in About me, Marketing
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I know that this blog post is totally off topic. But bear with me.

McDonald's marketing? I'm not lovin' it

McDonald’s marketing? I’m not lovin’ it.


Think about this: When you want a hamburger, does an ad for oranges, milk, and yogurt entice you? What if the ad also tells you to exercise?

This week McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson stepped down after more than 25 years with the company. It’s been a dismal year for the fast food giant—low monthly sales, a tainted meat scandal, etc. There have also been some court rulings on McDonald’s relationship with the employees in its franchised restaurants that have not bolstered confidence in the way the corporation is run.

But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I have a humble suggestion for Thompson’s successor and his marketing and advertising departments: Quit bowing to the food police and advertise what you really are—fast food.

What do I mean? Well, as a mother and a former PR/marketing professional, my worlds collide the second my son turns on the television. (Yes, he watches TV. He also plays video games, although he’s not a huge fan of fast food. But I love fast food, and I am not ashamed to admit it).

The ads that annoy me the most? The McDonald’s Happy Meal.

It’s not because the ads have a stupid jingle (Stompies, anyone?), or that they make my son churn with envy (anything Lego). It’s because McDonald’s has it all wrong. They don’t understand their market, they don’t understand their product, and they certainly don’t understand their consumer benefits.

What do I mean? If you turn on any of the kid-centered TV networks, the you’ll find ads touting the goodness of yogurt, milk, oranges. The ads will talk about the fun of exercise and the importance of reading. And these ads for for the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Exercise, oranges and milk are NOT benefits that McDonald’s customers want. That’s what HOME is for.

The corporation has bowed to critics who claim that the Happy Meal is junk food and should be more healthy. But it’s not McDonald’s job to fight the obesity crisis. It’s their job to sell food. Their product is comfort fast food. Their market is people who want comfort fast food. The benefit is that comfort fast food makes people happy (McDonald’s french fries make me very happy). But McDonald’s has totally lost sight of that.

Let’s face it, McDonald’s: Leave the health food to Whole Foods and stick to what you know. If I want my kid to have the goodness of oranges, yogurt, and milk, I will open the fridge and give it to him. If I have a hankering for junk food, I will go to a hamburger joint.

But I am not going to go to McDonald’s (food quality aside), because their ads keep trying to tell me to eat healthy and get more exercise. I get plenty of exercise and I eat healthy 88% of the time. I go to fast food for a TREAT. So instead, I am going to go to Carl’s Jr. or In-N-Out, because they make no excuses for what they are. And really: why is a fast food restaurant telling kids to exercise? That’s not their mission. Their mission is FOOD.

It’s time for McDonald’s to tell the health food lobby to lump it and embrace who they are: fast food that reminds you of childhood. They should market themselves like other fast food places, with good, “hamburger joint” food for special occasions and treats.

If people decide to eat there every day, that’s their decision. But I’ll tell you this: the people who eat there every day aren’t eating oranges and yogurt.

But I doubt the McDonald’s folks will listen to me …



Ask a Question Friday: How can I learn more about the Survivors’ Movement

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 30, 2015 in Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Minnesota, Parenting
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(Note: Yes, I am actually posting this on a Friday. Shocker.)

How can I learn more about the Survivors’ Movement and SNAP, that organization with whom you do so much work? Is there anywhere I can hear the best and brightest speakers on the topic and meet people who are working for justice for adult victims of child sexual abuse (as well as stopping the cycle and preventing abuse)?

The best place to learn about the Survivors’ Movement and legislative change, hear the latest news, meet leaders and newsmakers, and get the best information on abuse prevention and victim healing is to attend the SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) Annual Conference. I am not a huge fan of conferences, but the SNAP conference—scheduled for July 31-August in Washington, D.C. (Alexandria, VA)—hosts the best and brightest speakers who are totally engaged in helping survivors and protecting kids. You can go for a day or the whole weekend.

If you are interested in presenting, you can download the request for proposals here.

The organizers do a great job every year to make the conference fun, engaging, relevant, and life-changing. You will do yourself a service by attending.


You asked. We listened.

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 25, 2015 in About me, My Son, Shameless Plugs


You’ve been bugging me for years. So now you can all clam up and put your money where you mouth is.

YES, MY SON. WINE IS ONE OF THE FIVE FOOD GROUPS, the definitive collection of my humorous Facebook posts, is available for your Kindle (or your ebook reader on your computer) and in paperback. And while I am not one to boast, I had forgotten how funny a lot of this stuff was.

So here is what I need from you:

  1. Please buy the book. It’s super affordable. In fact, buy a couple. They’re small.
  2. Consider writing a review. A nice one. Heck, I’ll even write it for you to post.
  3. Tell your friends. Tell everyone you have ever met. Tell anyone with a pulse.
  4. Spread the love on social media. Post about the book on Facebook or Twitter. Talk about it on Goodreads (as of this writing, the book isn’t up yet. Just give it some time).

What will you get in return? Laugh-out-loud fun, love, good karma, extra Christmas presents from total strangers, and … most importantly, my unending respect and gratitude. All for $2.99.

I bet your $3 latte never did that for you.


Book Announcement

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 20, 2015 in armored child, Book Reviews, Parenting
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THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD: A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO PREVENTING ABUSE has found a home (before it ends up in your home and the homes of all of your friends).

The manuscript has been accepted by the Greenleaf Book Group and will be published under the River Grove imprint. Expect to see the book on Amazon and available for order in late August 2015. It will also be available for order by book stores and groups.




Ask a Question Friday: My kid is too young for prevention education

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 18, 2015 in armored child, Child safety, Parenting, Uncategorized
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Joelle, you constantly stress how important it is to “armor” your child against abuse from as early as infancy and toddlerhood. I don’t agree. My child is too young to know about sex. Why do you insist on exposing children so early and ruining their innocence?

Armoring your child does NOT include talking about sex. You can empower your child and teach her and yourself the tools you need WITHOUT destroying her innocence. You do not need to get into uncomfortable discussions about biology, where babies come from, shame, sexuality, morality, or religious views on sex. Your child doesn’t understand and doesn’t care. He just wants to be safe and empowered.

When I talk about “armoring” your baby and toddler, I mention NOTHING about sex, abuse, or anything else that destroys a child’s innocence. Instead, I talk about the importance of establishing boundaries and schedules for infants and toddlers, as well as using consistency and love in discipline. For toddlers, I stress knowing the correct names for body parts and allowing your child to refuse hugs and kisses from adults. You can learn more here.

Your child’s innocence is a gift. Armoring your child reinforces that innocence. And it’s totally in your power and control.


Naughty Twitter Feed? Say Adios to that scholarship, my friend!

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 16, 2015 in About me, armored child, Child safety, Parenting
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Talking to teenagers about their social media presence can be a drag. But if you have a teen and that teen is online, talking to your kid about his or her “online presence” can make the difference between a free college education and a lifetime of student debt.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask the high schooler who was denied the scholarship because his online presence was not “representative … of our university.”

From USA Today:

Three years ago, Scott Fitch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A college coach recruiting two of his Fairport High School boys basketball players called to say how much he liked what he saw after watching them play an AAU game, and that he thought both were good enough to see court time on his team as freshmen.

“But we’re going to stop recruiting one of them,” the college coach said.

Stunned, Fitch asked why.

“We found his Twitter account, looked through it and some of what we saw isn’t representative of what our university is about,” the recruiter explained.

Be sure to read the whole thing.



Ask a Question Friday: Reporting and Institutions

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 11, 2015 in abuse-repellent child, boy scouts, Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Parenting, Q&A
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This week’s question, two days late.

Joelle, how do scandals in places like Penn State and the Catholic Church start? I mean, these aren’t bad people in these institutions, right? Will new policies by these organizations and others make sure that men and women who abuse children are reported and stopped, instead of protected?

This is a complicated question that I will try to answer as simply as possible. We love our institutions. We love them so much that, sometimes, very good people do bad things in order to protect the reputation of the institution. It’s easy to think, “Gosh, the church/scouts/school promised to take care of us. They would never do something to intentionally hurt a child.”

But unfortunately, they do. Institutions are only as good as the people in them. Good people should stand up for principles, morality, and child safety, even if it means that they risk their job, the reputation of the institution, or community opinion. But as we’ve seen, it’s not always the case.

In places like Penn State and the Catholic Church, people who saw, suspected or learned about abuse didn’t do the one important thing that could have stopped the cycle: Call the police. Yes, there are cases where the police were notified, but in many of these, investigations were stonewalled by employees and polices that kept very important evidence out of the hands of cops and prosecutors.

I don’t have a lot of faith that new policies in these institutions will make real change. Policies don’t change how institutions operate. People do. It’s the culture of the institution that ensures openness, safety, transparency and accountability. Culture is created by people from the top down and the bottom up. The importance of culture goes beyond child sexual abuse—large corporations deal with the problems of culture all of the time. When the culture begins to go sour (Enron, anyone?), all of the policies of the world won’t change it. Only real culture change within the organizations will do that. Only PEOPLE can do that.

If you don’t see real cultural change in an institution that has protected child predators in the past, then chances are that all of the policies and rules in the world aren’t going to make a lick of difference.

I hate to be somewhat of a downer on the subject, but there is an upside: YOU can create the culture of an institution. In the case of child sexual abuse, it’s a simple as this: if you see, suspect, or hear about child sexual abuse, report to LAW ENFORCEMENT first, then inform upper management, if you feel comfortable doing so. If you have questions about your suspicions, call the ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Your identity will remain confidential.

If you saw a co-worker punching an innocent bystander in the face, you’d call the cops, right? If a co-worker came to you bloodied and bruised, and told you that another co-worker had violently attacked him, you’d call the cops, right? If you had real fear that co-worker was violent and was going to hurt someone, you’d report right? Child sex abuse is no different. Let’s quit pretending it is.


New feature: Ask a Question Friday

Posted by Joelle Casteix on January 2, 2015 in armored child, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Parenting, Q&A, Shameless Plugs
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I get TONS of questions. Lots. So many in fact, that I ended up writing a book.

But there are some questions that don’t really have a place in the book. There are others with answers that need to be reiterated … and reiterated … until you feel like you’ve been bludgeoned by Mjolnir. (Just ask my husband – NO ONE can nag like I can)

The result: I’ve decided to launch Ask a Question Friday. If you have a question you want answered, send it to me at If you want to make a party of it, read this at 5pm with your favorite cocktail (who says that prevention education can’t be fun?).

So grab the wine opener, and let’s get started.

Joelle, you have a young son. With everything you know about abuse, how can you ever let him out of your sight?

I get this question all of the time.

I’ll admit it: having a kid is really hard. If you watch TV and keep up with the news, you’re bound to think that the world is a terrible place where children can’t play outside and where a predator lurks behind every corner.

But much of that is not true.

My son plays outside with his friends almost every day. At least twice a week, I have about six kids in my house playing Legos, Xbox, or inventing zombie-esque games.

You can create a fun, safe, and magical place for your child to play and thrive. How do you do that? Be aware. Know your child’s friends and their parents. Demand that your child follow your rules for safe play, check-in, etc. Be observant of other adults. Understand that “Stranger Danger” is important, but that a majority of abuse is perpetrated by someone YOU and YOUR CHILD love and respect.

I am doing my best to raise my child with strong body boundaries, strong behavioral boundaries, and the confidence to know that he can tell me anything. He does not spend time alone with any adult besides his parents or a trusted caregiver. From a toddler, he has known the correct names of his body parts and that no one touches them inside or outside of his clothes (or vice-versa, or takes pictures). I am also teaching him to be confident enough to know that it is okay to say no to an adult, he does not have to be hugged or touched if he doesn’t want to, and that self-esteem and self-confidence will be his biggest defenses against predators.

Mostly, I try to make sure that he is not surrounded by fear, judgement, or confusion about his body. And yes, I am on the stricter side of parenting. My son has had strong and appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior. I am an adult, and my child is a child. He wants me to be an adult and to be strong for him. It is my job to solve the “adult problems” of his world so that he can learn to problem-solve his own issues.

Am I perfect? Hell, no. I am sure that any reader can shoot 100 holes in my answer. But I will say this: my child has only one chance to be a child. He only has one chance to be strong about his body and full of childhood friendships. I refuse to raise a child with a victim mentality. It’s not my son’s job to pay for what happened to me.

I know that I mess up every day. A lot. But awareness is 90% of the battle.



My interview on Lawpreneur Radio: Civil rights for crime victims

Posted by Joelle Casteix on December 29, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Shameless Plugs
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Last, week, I spoke with Miranda Dempsey McCroskey of Lawpreneur Radio about the importance of civil rights for crime victims, how plaintiffs’ attorneys have been instrumental in exposing abuse … and, of course, THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. The podcast is up and you can listen here.

Or, you can check out the interview on iTunes.

Guam: When ordinary people do extraordinary things

Posted by Joelle Casteix on December 20, 2014 in Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis


I hate watching sports … but I LOVE stories about sports.

The minutiae about how any particular game is played is usually lost on me. For me, going to a live sporting event is about the spectacle, not the stats or the rules.

But give me a documentary, movie, book, magazine article, or TV show about the PEOPLE in and behind the games, and I’m mesmerized. These stories draw me in because they are about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. These stories take place in a world—our world—where ANYTHING is possible. There are no victims and there is no pity. This is a world full of vision, enthusiasm, dreams, hope, love, and the value of tenacity.

Which brings me to a small island in the Western Pacific: Guam—an island full of ordinary people doing very extraordinary things. These people aren’t athletes—they are Catholics fighting to take back their church, their faith, and their reputations.

apuron sign

I went to Guam in 2010. Survivors on the island had asked me to come there and reach out to other survivors who felt like it was not safe to come forward and report. The Archbishop of Hagatna, Anthony Sablan Apuron—according to Catholics and critics—was perceived as a bully who scared and shamed victims into silence. So, for some sex abuse victims in the Archdiocese of Hagatna (the only diocese on Guam), coming forward and reporting abuse was tantamount to career and reputation suicide. For the rest, it was suicide.

So when Guam legislators passed a 2011 civil window that allowed sex abuse victims to come forward and use the civil courts to sue their abuser (but not the Archdiocese), victims didn’t come forward … it was just too risky.

Fast forward to 2014. This is where the story really begins. (Note: this story is SO complex and complicated, I know I’m going to miss some of the big points. But the story is still pretty darned juicy.)

Local Catholics, led by trail blazers such as Tim Rohr (a man Apuron had recruited to discredit me in 2010) and Fr. Matthew Blockley, decided that they had had enough. Apuron was pushing the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement within the church that according to John Allen, Jr., is “playing fast and loose with both Church teaching and the liturgical rules, fostering a cult of personality, and dividing parishes by insisting that members attend their own Saturday evening services rather than the usual Sunday Mass.”




But there was more. According to Rohr, Apuron was punishing his critics by firing them and “cutting fast and loose” with their reputations. Even worse, the group found out that a member of Apuron’s inner circle, John Wadeson, was a twice-accused priest that had been banned from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Blockley and Rohr (who was now an ally) reached out to me and SNAP to help expose the priest. After the story went national, Apuron finally forced Wadeson to quit.

Rohr and Blockley weren’t done. They blasted Apuron for financial mismanagement. They demanded a voice in how the Archdiocese was run. They demanded to know why Apuron was pushing out his critics inside the chancery. Rohr empowered John Toves, a relative of an alleged sex abuse victim of Apuron himself, to come forward and publicly talk about what he knows. Rohr’s website was flooded with local supporters and international readers (many of whom were within the Vatican itself).

Other people started to stand up. A group of local Catholics started a nonprofit called Concerned Catholics of Guam. The group’s purpose is to empower the laity and to achieve financial transparency in the Archdiocese. Soon after, John Toves came to Guam to try and speak with the Archbishop. He was told he would be arrested if he came onto church property.

Then, Apuron fired Deacon Steve Martinez, the man who had demanded that Apuron’s handling of the Wadeson case be held up to Vatican scrutiny. Rohr and his supporters blasted the move, exposing the fact that Martinez was being ousted for upholding the sex abuse policies of the Archdiocese—policies that Apuron allegedly wanted to ignore.

The Guam Archbishop’s veneer of respectability had almost completely disintegrated.

Then came the coup de gras. Yesterday, December 19, the Vatican announced that the Archdiocese of Hagatna would be the subject of an “Apostolic Visit” during the first week of January 2015. Apuron did his best to spin the visit, but the real reason of any Apostolic Visit isn’t so happy: The visitor is sent to investigate a special circumstance in a diocese or country and to submit a report to the Holy See at the conclusion of the investigation.

As a result, a seemingly panicked Apuron has decided that Martinez could stay in his position until January 12, after the Apostolic Visitor had returned to the Vatican.

Catholics on Guam are fighting … and right now, they are winning. This is something that NEVER happens. Apuron has few, if any, vocal supporters and the Vatican has taken notice. Even if the Pope decides to take no action whatsoever (which is a huge possibility), Guam’s Catholics have already struck a huge victory. It’s a real Cinderella story (to borrow a well-worn sports cliche) and it’s still unfolding.

I suggest you keep this team on your radar. They are doing extraordinary things, and we should all be watching.



28 Texting and Internet acronyms every parent should know

Posted by Joelle Casteix on December 16, 2014 in armored child, Parenting
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From CNN: A great list of acronyms that teens use to keep their attentive parents “in the dark” about the subject matter of their texts, internet exchanges, and social media posts. A great read for any parent who understands the importance of keeping tabs on their children’s online lives.

Note: Since these acronyms are being picked up by the mainstream media, they are probably already out of date … There ARE teenagers, you know.

The OC Register: He’s just not that into me anymore

Posted by Joelle Casteix on December 14, 2014 in About me, media, Parenting

** UPDATE: The folks at the Register have fixed the problem. Not just for me (the squeaky wheel) but for the whole neighborhood.  Insert Happy Dance ***

Sad, cold, and wet people are looking for their Sunday OC Register

Sad, cold, and wet people searching for their Sunday OC Register


It had all of the signs of a romance in doom.

First, there was The Rush: Despite cutbacks and layoffs and closures at other newspapers across the country, the Orange County Register issued promises of grandeur. The new owner, Aaron Kushner, was expanding the paper: hiring new reporters, creating daily local sections, and giving away ad space to local nonprofits. They brought back beats like Religion (where I tend to be a mainstay) and Classical Music (which was great for my then-role with the Orange County Women’s Chorus). I was elated—I had butterflies in my stomach every morning, excited about what I would read when I opened my morning paper. I was in love. It was the late ’90s all over again—that era when I needed a forklift to carry in my Sunday paper.

But it wouldn’t last.

Then came The Denial: Like anyone in love, I was blind to the critics. When Gustavo Arellano blasted the business model and called it unsustainable, I refused to listen. He didn’t understand the OC Register like I did, I told myself.

Heck, my family had an almost 90-year relationships with the Register, going back to the 1920s, when the paper boasted the Santa Ana Register masthead. My grandfather (the former county coroner), my grandmother (the former clerk to the OC County Board of Supervisors), my father (a former Santa Ana Planning Commissioner), and I (a regular trouble-maker for naughty people) have been quoted in the paper for almost a century. A Casteix has been a subscriber (except for two years in the mid-90s) for just as long. No one understood the Register like I did. The OC Register would never hurt me, I said.

My reporter friends were leaving the paper in droves. But I thought: It’s just a phase.

Then when the Register couldn’t deliver papers to subscribers because of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to the Los Angeles Times, I told myself: It will never happen to me.

Next came The Brutal Truth: Two weeks ago, my paper stopped coming. When my neighbor Nadine* asked me if I was getting my Register, I said, “No, but it’s okay. It will come.” It never came. Nadine* began a calling and emailing campaign to get her paper. She and my husband shared ideas about how they could get the attention of the higher-ups and get delivery back. They both looked at me, incredulous: Why was I doing nothing? I love to complain about poor service. I have built a career out of exposing fraud and wrong-doing. But yet, I sat patiently, waiting for a paper (a paper I have already paid for, mind you) that would never come.

Finally, The Betrayal: My husband broke the news gently this morning. “I went to the Smiths* house last night. Steve* said that he and his wife Claire* have been calling and emailing the Register every day for the past three weeks. Now, they get a special delivery of their paper every morning. The carrier even puts the paper on their back porch.”


The Smiths live less than 200 ft from my house. The carrier has to pass my driveway to get to them. The carrier also passes right by Nadine’s home. But we get no paper. We get nothing. I wonder if the carrier laughs has he passes my house. I wonder if he even knows that I sit here, lonely and dejected.

Gustavo had been right all along. But like any woman in love, I refused to listen to the voices of reason.

I’d break up with the Register right now, but the customer service hold time is 72 minutes.

So I’m just going to walk over to the Smith’s house and beg to have their NYT Sunday Crossword. I’ll offer a decent wine trade.


*Names have been changed to protect the innocent

Bill Cosby, Jerry Brown, and a lawsuit

Posted by Joelle Casteix on December 4, 2014 in Child safety, Parenting
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If I were Bill Cosby, I wouldn’t tweet thank yous to Jill Scott and Whoopi Goldberg. I’d be visiting Sacramento and planting a great big kiss on the lips of California Governor Jerry Brown. 

Why? Because Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have given civil rights to Cosby’s alleged victims who were under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse. Had Brown not vetoed the legislation, these women would have been able to use the civil courts to expose Cosby, depose witnesses under oath, gather evidence, and seek justice.

Cosby loves him some Jerry Brown

Cosby loves him some Jerry Brown

But the good news is that despite Brown’s 2013 veto, there is a lawsuit. A very brave woman named Judy Huth filed her case in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying that Cosby drugged and raped her at the Playboy mansion when Hutt was only 15 years old. The alleged abuse took place in the 1970s.

The suit, filed by an Orange County attorney, says that Huth CAN use the civil courts, despite the amount of time that has passed since the abuse. According to USA Today:

Huth, now 55, suggests the statute of limitations be waived because she discovered “her psychological injuries and illnesses were caused by the sexual abuse perpetrated by Cosby” within the past three years.

This is going to be tough to prove. California has some pretty bad precedent when it comes to these kinds of cases, most significantly, the Quarry decision. That ruling, which came down in 2012, said that six brothers abused by an Oakland priest waited too long to file their lawsuits.

Jerry Brown—Giving criminal conspiracies a pass ... AGAIN

Jerry Brown—He loves the Cos

Huth is represented by an attorney named Marc Strecker. From what I can gather, Strecker has little to no experience in child sex abuse cases that have to battle civil statutes of limitations. I’m sure that he is a good man and a good attorney, but for Huth’s sake and the sake of hundreds of other older victims, I hope Strecker gets good co-counsel who is well-versed in child sex abuse statute of limitations issues. Going in alone and unarmed will not only destroy Huth’s chances at justice, but it will hurt the entire child sex abuse justice movement in California. (If you’re reading this Marc, I suggest you give me a call)

In other news, Gloria Allred held a press conference yesterday with some of Cosby’s other alleged victims. I am overjoyed that Allred gave them protection and a platform to talk about what happened to them. These women have been shamed into silence for far too long. I can’t even image what they have gone through.


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What if the parents had no clue?

Posted by Joelle Casteix on November 15, 2014 in armored child, Hollywood, Parenting
1 Comment

Amy Berg’s new documentary “An Open Secret” recently had its first (and probably only) public screening. Roger Freedman, writing for Showbiz411 had an honest and evocative review. But it was this paragraph that caught my eye:

Ryan’s parents are devastated, as are all the parents. But none of them explain how their sons could be lured into these messes. I am not saying it’s their fault. They were preyed upon. But Berg avoids examining what was going on at home that created so many gullible, naive and needy kids,  and why they fell for the manipulation of evil people.

The answer is pretty easy: the parents were carefully groomed, enticed by promised of wealth and fame for their children, and led to believe that nothing bad could possibly happen. Their kids weren’t any more gullible or naive than any other kids—they were vulnerable to these rich, powerful adults who used fame, money, threats, and manipulation (or drugs, or alcohol, or grooming, or porn, or whatever) to get these children to do whatever they wanted.

Filmmaker Amy Berg

Filmmaker Amy Berg

Where were the parents? They were probably doing their rotten best, putting their trust in cunning predators. Parents of victims of clergy, coaches, doctors, scout leaders, and community figures will tell you the same.

The one thing all of these parents were missing were TOOLS to understand grooming, TOOLS to empower their children, and the ability and knowledge to STOP, REPORT, and PREVENT abuse.

I know a great book coming out that can be the first step.



When your district says it’s okay for teachers and kids to have sex …

Posted by Joelle Casteix on November 14, 2014 in armored child, Parenting
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It’s time to find a new district and consider class action.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently argued that a 14-year-old middle school student can legally consent to sex with an adult teacher.

Because of the way that the civil law evolved through previous court decisions, the LAUSD won the argument, but lost a public relations and educational war.

I could go into a full and complete argument as to why blaming child victims is wrong in the eyes of the law, defies common sense, and gives predatory teachers and school employees a free pass to groom children and teens into child sexual abuse.

But instead, I am going to say this: If you send your child to the LAUSD, reconsider your decision and your tax dollars. If the school district is spending millions on a defense that says it’s okay for teachers to have sex with kids, it’s a BROKEN district. It is engaged in malpractice and child endangerment.

Shameful, indeed.


Celebrity nude photos and … your teenager

Posted by Joelle Casteix on November 12, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Parenting
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The celebrity nude photo “scandal” is old news these days. But in case you missed it: dozens of celebrities’ iCloud accounts were hacked and nude photos in those accounts were stolen and published on various internet sites.


Hacking is a crime, and having your privacy violated in such a personal way can be devastating to the celebrities whose photos were leaked.

But it’s not just celebrities who are taking nude or sexually charged photos of themselves. All a teen or preteen needs is a smart phone and a little privacy to take a single photo that can have horrible and life-long consequences.

So, what do you tell your teenager?

1) Be bigger than a celebrity: take responsibility for your body and your digital identity.

Celebrities have three advantages here: They are the only people who can use nude photos to advance their careers, they have an instant soapbox (their publicist and Twitter) to voice their outrage, and they got tons of great publicity.

Your teen does not have those advantages. In fact, if nude photos are shared or leaked or hacked, they can limit or ruin your teen’s chance of getting into college, getting a great job, or having a relationship with someone they really care about. And no one is going to listen when your teen complains.

Tell your teen this: “Only YOU can protect your digital identity. Understand that every photo you take: whether you be drinking, naked, volunteering with the homeless, or vandalizing public property becomes public the second you hit SEND or SAVE. Before you take any photo, think to yourself: Would I want this photo passed around the Thanksgiving dinner table or published on the portal of your school’s website?”

2) It’s not a matter of trust.

Your teen may say, “But I trust my boyfriend. He would never share any of these photos.” And if you try to tell your teen the truth (Just wait until you break up or he gets mad), you will probably hit a stone wall.

So say this: What if your boyfriend’s parents monitor or look at his phone? What if his little brother gets a hold of it? What if it’s lost, stolen, or hacked? What if your boyfriend has an ex who is really mad and takes his phone and spreads the photos? What if the photos are accidentally sent to the wrong person? What if your boyfriend is looking at them and someone takes a picture of the photo? What if he loans the phone to someone to make a call or send a text and that person sees the photos and/or sends them out?

3) Don’t take nude photos of yourself.

Your teen is not a celebrity. Your teen is a beautiful, wonderful person who deserves dignity and privacy. Your teen is also growing into becoming a responsible adult who needs to understand that actions can have many consequences, some of which may not be good.

Tell your teen: Just don’t do it. The only one who can protect your digital identity is YOU.

Internet Safety: Five tips for parents

Posted by Joelle Casteix on October 22, 2014 in armored child, armored kid, Child safety, Parenting
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The Internet puts the world at your child’s fingertips. With a few clicks of a keyboard, the swipe of a phone, or the tap of a iPod or tablet, your child can bring the beauty of the world to the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, this same power allows your child to invite predators directly into his bedroom.


Online predators target victims who are susceptible to grooming—good kids from good homes, with good parents, and good futures ahead of them. Don’t lull yourself with a false sense of security by thinking, “My kid would never fall prey to someone online.” It can happen and it does happen every day.

But don’t stress out or immediately throw away everything in your home that receives a wifi signal. There are safe and simple things you can do to make your child a “hard target” for online predators.

Here are five tips to get you started:

1) Monitor, monitor, and monitor. 

Your kids should not have an expectation of privacy when it comes to technology. Make it perfectly clear that you will and do read their texts and emails. Tell them that you will track where they go on the internet, and if you use monitoring software, don’t keep it a secret. Also monitor all social media and know exactly what apps are on your kid’s computer, phone or tablet.

2) Set house rules and stick to them.

Some of the rules can and should include:

  • No technology in bedrooms, especially technology with cameras.
  • No cell phones in rooms at night. Not only will this take away opportunity for a predator to engage in “private” conversations with your child, but taking the phone away at night will allow your child to get undistracted sleep.

3) Understand grooming

Online grooming is very similar to grooming that occurs in person. And since online grooming takes place at home—maybe even in the child’s room—the victim already has her guard down. She may be more likely to open up to someone online and divulge secrets, impart trust, and fall victim to a predator.

What are the signs of online grooming?

  • The child is given money or gifts, including cell phones.
  • Flattery and manipulation – The predator may write things like “No one loves you or understands you like I do.” Or they may always side with the child when there is conflict between the child and her parents.
  • Sharing and keeping secrets online
  • Sexualized conversations or sending and receiving nude or sexualized photos.

If you see any of these things, contact the police.

4) Remember: Unless you know the person in real life, assume that no one is who they say they are.

If your child gravitates towards sites like Disney, Nick Jr., and other sites where kids can “talk to their friends,” where do you think that predators who like children will go? Also be careful of multi-player games where your child can play online with people he or she does not know.

Tell your older children that the “hot” guy or girl who just friended them on social media is probably a 45-year-old, overweight dude living in his mom’s basement. And no matter how caring, sexy, or fun that person is, they are probably not who they say they are, ESPECIALLY if they want a teen or pre-teen to send photos, make videos, or talk about sex.

5) Have a frank discussion with older children about photos, sexting and the permanence of the internet.

The Internet is permanent. Be perfectly (and age appropriately) frank with your child. Tell him that any photo he takes and sends over the internet, anything posted on social media, and anything said via text or email will last forever (even if an app promises to make things “disappear”). Tell your teen that no matter how much they love and trust a boy/girlfriend, NEVER take or share nude or semi-nude photos. There is a strong chance that those clearly identifiable photos will end up on pornography sites.

Make it perfectly clear that you do not want your child’s digital legacy to be nude or graphic photos or videos, photos of drinking or drug use, criminal behavior, or anything that can jeopardize your child’s safety and future.



Predators in Pretty Packages: Five lessons for parents from the Stephen Collins case

Posted by Joelle Casteix on October 20, 2014 in armored child, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Hollywood, Parenting

Hollywood couldn’t have written a better plot: an all-American man plays a respected pastor and father of seven. Add in good looks and charm, and you’ve got the makings of a beloved television character.

And the perfect cover for a predator.

Stephen Collins, who played Eric Camden, the dad/pastor on the long-running TV series 7th Heaven, has allegedly admitted to molesting numerous children. The admission, made on tape during a 2012 therapy session with Collins’ now-estranged wife, Faye Grant, was publicly released last week, resulting in dramatic fallout, including criminal investigations in California and New York.

Stephen Collins, TV star and (alleged) admitted child predator

Stephen Collins, TV star and (alleged) admitted child predator

But this story is bigger than Collins himself. It’s not just about whether or not he is guilty; it’s also about what he represents—the stereotype of the cunning and untouchable offender. A man who could not be brought down by his victims, a complicit Hollywood community. Or the police.

It took a taped confession—and TMZ.

The Collins case should be a wake-up call for parents to recognize that even under the trusted, respected, suave veneer of a TV star, your child can still be in danger.

Here are five lessons from Collins’ case to help parents protect children against abuse:

1) Abusers are cunning, using power, prestige—even fame—to groom victims and their families. According to the allegations, Collins used his popularity as an actor and his connections to Hollywood elite for “grooming,” the process by which a predator flatters and manipulates a child, isolates that child from family and friends, and creates a “compliant” victim. Add celebrity status to the mix, and the grooming process is even more enticing. After all, when a celebrity predator pays special attention to a child, gives the child special access to people and events, and seduces parents and family members with stardom, it’s easy to isolate the child for sexual abuse—and silence her for a lifetime.

2) Families often protect alleged offenders, even if it defies logic. Collins’ estranged wife recorded the confession in a therapy session in 2012, a full two years before it was made public. News reports have claimed she suspected Collins has abused children for decades. But she didn’t report. Why? No one wants to believe that someone they love and trust is an abuser, be it a husband, aunt, grandfather, priest, scout leader, coach or teacher. The lesson in all of this: The needs of victims must ALWAYS trump protecting alleged offenders. If you suspect abuse or if someone tells you that they have sexually abused a child, report it. Period.

3) It is difficult for victims to come forward. Collins allegedly has molested numerous victims. Why didn’t they report? Think about it: How powerful does an 8-year-old child feel after being carefully groomed and sexually abused by a handsome, charming television star? It’s likely, too, that the child thinks no one will believe her or that she did something to “ask for” the abuse. And even if that abused child does come forward against a prominent, respected member of the community, she may struggle to be heard and believed. And then there’s always a chance for victim shaming. If a child is abused by a celebrity, as in this case, the victim and her family may be portrayed as “money grubbers” and “publicity hounds.” Such name-calling can be as damaging as the abuse itself, so the victims remain in shame and silence. If the predator is a woman, it becomes even more difficult for victims to be heard and believed.

4) Organizations may turn a blind eye until there is a scandal. Once the story leaked, it didn’t take long for Hollywood to react: The Academy for the Performing Arts swiftly jettisoned Collins, reruns of 7th Heaven have been shelved, and he has been dropped by his talent agency and from numerous upcoming roles. (Collins also resigned last week from the Screen Actors’ Guild Board.) Yes, it was a sufficiently quick reaction. But none of these groups has said that they will reserve judgment until after a verdict (such as with the Michael Jackson case). So what’s the problem? The reaction was so swift that we can’t help but wonder: Did all of these groups have suspicions or know about the abuse but refused to do anything until it became a public scandal (á la scandals in the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church)? The lesson? No institution or organization will protect or advocate for your child better than you, the parent or caregiver.

5) All states need firm, victim-friendly civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse. It can take victims decades to heal enough to report the abuse. One of Collins’ victims came forward in 2012, for example, but police were unable to pursue the allegations because the criminal statute of limitations had already expired. If New York had a strong civil law for victims—like states such as Minnesota and Hawaii—the alleged victim could have used the civil courts to expose Collins, warn others about the risk, and encourage younger victims to come forward. And while New York is on track with a bill currently in the legislature, other states have a long way to go, including my own, California. Our Governor, Jerry Brown, just vetoed a civil bill for victims, paving the way for alleged predators like Collins to abuse more victims.

John Grisham and the “I was just looking” argument

Posted by Joelle Casteix on October 16, 2014 in armored child, Parenting
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UPDATE: Grisham apologized. Looks like he finally read the memo. And he got people talking ….

John Grisham's note to self: never defend child pornography

John Grisham’s note to self: never defend child pornography

Child pornography is criminal for a reason: It’s gross, vile, and extremely damaging to the children who were exploited. But someone didn’t get the memo.

John Grisham (yes, THAT John Grisham) said recently in an interview that men who look at 16-year-old girls in sex acts are not pedophiles and should not be punished.

If you are sexually aroused by watching minors being sexually abused and/or forced into sex acts, you have real issues. But I am not going to get into that in this post.

What I AM going to talk about is why these photos are illegal and why people who create, sell, and/or look at them should be punished.

Here are reasons why John Grisham is horribly mistaken:

1) The actions involved in the photos are criminal. Child pornography is not “art.” It includes photos of children (boys, girls, toddlers, and teens) being tied up, raped, drugged, sodomized, and violated. It’s disgusting stuff. Talk to prosecutors—they will tell you.

2) All of the children in these photos are victims of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is when a child is sold for sex—including prostitution and child pornography. The children in the photos—whether they be 10-year-old boys or 16-year-old girls—are being sold for sex. Period. Bad people are making money off of this. Yes: They are making money off of pictures of children being raped.

3) Let’s talk about the kids in the photos. How do you think that pornographers get the kids? They don’t do a casting call and abide by union rules. Instead, they exploit and imprison runaways, force kids into drug addiction, or take pictures of children they are already sexually abusing. Other children are isolated from friends and family, marked with tattoos to show that their pimp “owns” them, and then are forced to comply if they want to eat, sleep, or get a hit of drugs to keep them from going into painful withdrawal symptoms.

The kids in the photos are not wiling models. I repeat: THE “MODELS” ARE BEING HORRIBLY EXPLOITED.

4) One of the best ways to STOP child pornography is to kill the market. That’s done by aggressively punishing the people who buy these photos. If the market dries up, less children will be forced into these violent and criminal photos. Hence the long prison terms.

5) Grisham is trying to minimize the issue by saying that his friend “innocently clicked” on one of these links. Let me tell you this: If the RCMP came knocking on Grisham’s friend’s door and threw the guy in the pokey for three years, he wasn’t looking at 21-year-old girls in cheerleader outfits. He was looking at the gross stuff. (The rapes, the sodomies, the bondage) The RCMP cannot successfully prosecute a case if there is any cause for doubt. Grisham’s friend apparently left no cause for doubt.

6) There is a very small gap between looking at photos of children being sexually abused and actually abusing a child. There is a gap, but it is very small.

Need more proof? Child pornography is so vile that Missouri prosecutors got a guilty plea from Kansas City/St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn. His crime? Covering up for a pornography-producing priest. Instead of immediately turning over to the cops a priest’s computer full of images of children porn, Finn “minimized” the problem, didn’t inform the parents, and let the priest hide.

Sorry, Mr. Grisham. You are very, very wrong.





What do you do when a friend says, “I was abused as a child”

Posted by Joelle Casteix on October 13, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Parenting
Stephen Collins, TV star and (alleged) admitted child predator

Stephen Collins, TV star and (alleged) admitted child predator

With the recent news about 7th Heaven star Stephen Collins, everyone is talking a little bit more than usual about child sexual abuse. As the Collins story is unveiled and we learn more details, chances are that many adult victims of child sexual abuse—victims who were too scared or ashamed to come forward earlier—may confide in you or someone you know that they have been abused.

What do you do? 

1) Tell the person that you are sorry and that the abuse was NOT his or her fault.

2) Openly acknowledge that what happened was a crime.

3) Do NOT say things like:

“Why didn’t you tell earlier?”

“You WERE 16. You should have known better.”

“Where were your parents?”

“But you were a boy and she was a woman. That’s not abuse.” (Note: IT IS)

“Why didn’t you fight/say no?”

“But you DID have a crush on the teacher/coach/priest.”

“Are you just after the big payout?”

4) Do not blame the victim for coming forward, breaking down, or triggering at big events (such as weddings or parties) or at a time that is inconvenient for you. It’s not because the victim is being manipulative or trying to “ruin things” for everyone else. Usually, it’s because the person finally feels safe enough to talk. Embrace the victim, tell him or her that s/he has your support, and work on finding a time that you can really devote your attention to the survivor.

5) Set boundaries. Tell the survivor you can help him or her get treatment, find support groups, and/or call the police and report the crime. But remember that you cannot “save” or “cure” the victim.

6) If the crime is recent or a child tells you he or she has been sexually abused, dial 911. If the crime is not recent, but you suspect that children are still in danger of abuse, report to law enforcement. The best places to start are ChildHelp and the National Child Abuse Helpline and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). They will ask you questions about what you know, guide you through the process, and help you report the crime to the right authorities. You may also want to research the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sex crimes in your state. There may be a possibility that you can help expose a predator and/or put him or her behind bars. If other victims of the predator have come forward, call the law enforcement agency that has been investigating the crimes.

7) Understand that you may also need to talk to someone. Vicarious trauma (the pain you feel when you deal with others who are hurting) is real. If you find that you need to, talk to a counselor.

8) Finally, tell the survivor that he or she is brave and that you are proud of him/her. I know of men and women who did not disclose their abuse until they were in their 60s and 70s, because they were wracked with shame, self-hatred, fear, and guilt. Other victims wait for their parents to die because they don’t want to be the one to tell that a beloved priest, friend, sister, or uncle was an abuser. Affirm that the victim is a good person and that you are happy that they are talking.

This list is not complete, but it is a good start. For more information, visit RAINNMaleSurvivor, SNAP – The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, The National Center for Victims of Crime, or other groups that focus on survivor healing and justice. And consider donating to these groups, so that they can continue their wonderful work.

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