“You Can’t Unsee It”: Ann Ratnayake Macy Take on Policy Gaps in Child Torture Cases

by | Feb 21, 2020 | Seeds: Our Blog

Some things, though inconceivable to most people, are not impossible. As with the case of the 3-year old girl who was brutalized with bruises to her throat, intentionally starved to the point she had malnutrition diseases, and locked in a part of the house called the “hole” by her mother and her live-in boyfriend in Springfield, IL. The sentence received for these unconscionable acts? The mother received two years in prison with eligibility of parole after one.
A very similar case in Texas had an entirely different result—the perpetrator received 28 years in prison.
How can this be so? How can one child get some semblance of validation and justice while the other child’s torturers received a proverbial slap on the wrist?
The injustice can be the result of the differences in criminal codes between the two states, a result that is, shockingly, not atypical–and is something recent TPP grantee the National Center for Child Abuse Statistics & Policy (NCCASP), is tirelessly working to rectify. NCCASP, aims to create a child welfare system that better protects children and allows them to thrive by spreading innovation in law, technology, and social sciences across jurisdictional lines.
Ann Ratnayake Macy J.D./BBA, Executive Director of NCCASP describes the problem:

“Some states do not have a criminal child torture statute, or the states may have a child torture statute law with loopholes.” For cases of child torture in these states, where a child is intentionally locked in small, dark tight, spaces for hours or days, starved, and brutalized mentally and physically, the actions may only fit under other less serious crimes such as endangerment, or neglect -resulting in severely unjust sentences. Furthermore, since the perpetrator of child torture is convicted of a less consequential crime due to the loophole in the criminal code, he or she may still have access to the child.”

TPP provided a grant to NCCASP in publishing a groundbreaking article that brings light to this gap in the U.S. criminal code. NCCASP was able to document the gap within state criminal codes and publish the groundbreaking, “A precarious gap in U.S. criminal codes for cases of child torture and suggested model statute” within the prestigious peer-reviewed J. of Child and Youth Review in 2019. This report educates legislatures on the issue for the purpose of updating state criminal codes to close loopholes.
“The TPP grant supported the publication and dissemination of the report,” Macy said, “as well as NCCASP’s campaign to protect child torture victims in the United States…Our goal is to educate and shed light on the issue. The more stakeholders educated, the better we as a country will be able to protect victims.”

Working on such cases can, understandably, be incredibly difficult and emotionally trying.

So, Macy the founder of NCCASP was buoyed by TPP’s support: “TPP was the first grant we got and it was incredible because it gave us a sense of belief, that we’re being supported and we can continue to do this work.”

With the success of the publication, NCCASP is now working on a “report card” for states that grade states’ criminal child torture statutes (or lack thereof). The report will be released in April 2020 to coincide with child abuse prevention month.

So how does Macy stay hopeful amidst the harsh realities of her profession?

“Each case becomes so real because you can’t imagine that this could happen to a human being – let alone a child, and you have to do something to fix it…You can’t unsee it. We have made a lot of progress in showing the gap in the criminal codes, and we remain hopeful in that progress. Our team who gives their time, talent, and energy to create a better world is unbelievable.”

The NCCASP team of change agents include: Michael Buse, BA; Lais Lacher, BA/MBA; Cathleen Lowe,BA; Mitch Ly, BS; and research fellow Meredith Chauvin and intern Anna Stallings. The initial founding working group includes: Dr. Barbara Knox, MD; Prosecutor Randi King, JD; Judge Denise Langford-Morris, JD; Pamela James PsyD/ MA/ MJ/ MAS; and the 2020 board includes: Cindy Yen, JD/MpH; Bipin Badhe,B.E./MS/MBA; and Kathleen Weisenberger, BS/MIA. Special thanks goes to the law firm of Baker McKenzie for pro-bono legal research assistance with the project.

TPP is grateful for the work NCCASP is doing on behalf of abused children in the U.S. Part of TPP’s values is to support early-stage changemakers, and we are honored to be the first grant Ann received for her work.

Written by Carolyn Ashworth