Content warning: Story contains mentions of alleged abusive conduct.
Calls to support Kellyanne Conway’s teenage daughter Claudia, who alleges she is being abused by her mother, are growing stronger after a topless photo of the 16-year-old was allegedly posted on Conway’s Twitter account on Monday.
A Twitter Fleet — a feature which allows users to make a post that expires in 24 hours — by Kellyanne Conway, who served as former U.S. president Donald Trump’s counsellor for three years, uploaded the now-deleted semi-nude photo of Claudia according to screenshots by users.
Claudia confirmed that the photo was real on TikTok, a platform where she has previously shared many clips that catch Kellyanne Conway’s alleged verbal and physical abuse of her on-camera.
This video also came down shortly afterwards, but was re-uploaded online by Twitter users concerned for Claudia’s safety. In it, the teen tells her followers that she believes her mom obtained the photo after taking her phone earlier.
“I’m assuming that when my mom took my phone ... she took a picture of that so that was on her phone,” Claudia said. “I guess she accidentally posted it or somebody hacked her. But nobody would ever have any photo like that, ever. So, Kellyanne, you’re going to fucking jail.”
In a follow-up video, she alleged that Conway planned to blackmail her with it.
“I’m assuming my mom took a picture of it to use against me one day and then somebody hacked her or something,” she said.
Claudia’s latest TikTok asks people to stop calling the authorities because “it only hurts us ... I get that you’re trying to help me, but by putting my family in danger, you’re putting me in danger.”
“I know that my mom would never ever post anything to hurt me like that,” she said in another video, before pledging to work on her relationship with her mother by staying off social media. “I do believe she was hacked.”
However, some are speculating that Claudia did not make this public statement voluntarily due to her looking to the side several times and her delivery; previously Claudia has said she if she ever took a step away from social media, she would be forced into doing so.
Sharing suggestive photos of a minor is a form of sexual exploitation
A sexually suggestive photo of a minor is considered child pornography under U.S. and Canadian law. “Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation,” the U.S. justice department states on its website.
Possessing child pornography, i.e. having a nude screenshot of a minor available on your phone, is a crime. As is the distribution of said photo, which may sometimes be referred to as “revenge porn” when an adult’s photos are shared without authorization.
It’s unknown what’s really happening to Claudia, but the Conways are stirring up important conversations about abused children and how they fall through the cracks.
When authorities side with the alleged abuser
Canadians have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the authorities, which can look like a 911 call, getting in touch with your province’s ministry of social services, or contacting a child welfare agency like a local Children’s Aid Society (CAS). From there, an assessment is conducted and a child is removed from a caregiver’s home if they’re believed to be at risk of harm, or in-home interventions and follow-up with the family happen.
Unfortunately, not every report will result in child abuse stopping ― let alone an investigation.
Cops visited the Conways days before the photo was posted in a wellness check related to Claudia’s social media documentation of alleged emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, TMZ reports. Past videos show Conway yelling obscenities at her daughter and an unknown hand hitting her face.
Police also visited their residence in November, the outlet states, the day before the presidential election. A video discreetly taken by Claudia during the January visit indicates that law enforcement may not have taken her side.
“Guys she [Conway] is telling the police that she is unsafe because she is getting threats,” Claudia captioned her video, which pans to an unknown uniformed figure for a second. Conway is heard describing Claudia’s TikTok activity.
“I pay for my phone,” Claudia interjects. “I paid for this, you can’t take it.”
Claudia also alleges that a child welfare worker had “failed her” in a now-deleted video.
There are many stories from Canadian survivors of childhood abuse where a report led to no safe actions being taken and instead, endangered their safety because their abuser was angered.
“The Children’s Aid Society failed to protect me when they had an opportunity to so,” writes one Toronto woman on a blog of similar negative first-person accounts about CAS, connected to the Canadian research documentary “Powerful As God.”
Whatever is happening, it’s clear that a child’s mental health is negatively impacted when their abuse isn’t believed, said Cheyanne Ratnam, the founder of Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition.
“It’s so important to know when young people speak up they’re often silenced, called liars, and rejected,” Ratnam said, adding that “People need to engage with a trauma-informed lens and remember that children are people. When you silence them, retaliate and reject their truths it’s a fundamental kind of hurt that they feel.”
High-status parents and caregivers may get a pass in abuse cases
It’s not true that child abuse only happens within lower-income and families or that rich families are incapable of hurting kids, but class can still play a role in how child-protection services respond. It’s also worth noting that race plays a factor in how invasive a child-welfare agency’s intervention can be, even if it’s not a written policy, due to systemic and/or personal biases. Indigenous children represent more than half of all Canadian foster kids under the age of 15, an Ontario Human Rights Commission report found; in Ontario, “the proportion of Black children admitted into care was 2.2 times higher than their proportion in the child population,” the report also states.
Ratnam says that when it comes to child protection and criminal justice in general, Black, Indigenous, racialized and lower-income parents are especially surveilled.
“In higher income areas, where people typically occupy positions with higher status, parents have the privilege of being under-surveilled,” she told HuffPost Canada.
“People need to engage with a trauma-informed lens and remember that children are people. When you silence them, retaliate, and reject their truths its a fundamental kind of hurt that they feel.”
In instances where abuse or neglect isn’t present, and a family instead needs support with challenges such as food insecurity, illness, an addressable lack of parenting knowledge in specific areas, or other obstacles, a family removal may do more harm than good. Black families and Indigenous communities in particular, who have historical and current overrepresentation in the child welfare system, are more likely to be dealing with intergenerational trauma too.
Research stretching as far back as the 1980s has found that abused children in middle-class homes were less likely to be reported than those from lower-income households.
A 2018 small scale study of social workers found that some had a hard time letting go of the biases that kids with rich parents couldn’t be abused. Many struggled to spot classic signs of abuse or get parent to understand emotional neglect, as children’s physical basic needs were being met; moms and dads were hostile when their parenting methods were questioned.
“Those children are quite hidden, because parents know their rights, they are articulate, and they can be quite avoiding,” one respondent said. “I would say that social workers are quite often concerned about working with affluent parents rather than with other parents, because they are educated and they are very challenging.”
“I would say that social workers are quite often concerned that working with affluent parents rather than with other parents because they are educated and they are very challenging.”
In a 2015 case review of a mother’s fatal abuse against her three disabled children, its authors noted that health-care workers had issues supporting the kids because of how their parents wielded their privilege.
“The couple’s affluent, middle-class status, which together with their assertiveness, posed challenge to professionals, some of whom would not be used to this level of questioning,” the review’s authors stated. “This was particularly the case in dealings with the father who as a lawyer and a company director was experienced as powerful.”
Vulture reports that Claudia has previously said that U.S. Child Protection Services “do nothing” against the former White House official.
“She’s way too powerful,” Claudia wrote in the comments’ section of a video she posted.
In an Instagram live recorded on Monday night, influencer Tana Mongeau did a FaceTime call with Claudia. On Claudia’s end, a voice that sounds like Conway can be heard blaming Claudia for the photo’s fallout.
Many kids feel torn about reporting an abusive parent
Another challenge abused youth with under-surveilled parents face is the pressure to stay silent because of social or cultural stigma, according to Ratnam.
“When I was in the child welfare system myself, I was very quiet about who my mom was at home, because I didn’t want to embarrass her,” Ratnam said. “It’s complex. Children may want to protect a parent who is also their abuser. Even if you are from a higher economic status, maybe you only have your mom or your dad. Then you have the added trauma: ‘If I get my mom or dad in trouble, who is left for me?’”
Claudia has previously expressed guilt over police presence.
“I’m really scared and it’s my mom’s birthday so I feel guilty and invalid even though I shouldn’t and my anxiety is spiralling,” she wrote in a comment on TikTok, according to Vox. Prior to this month, Claudia has said she doesn’t want her mom to go to jail.
How schools, social services can keep kids from falling through the cracks
Among referrers to Children’s Aid Societies, schools are often the biggest source of reports. It’s a fact not lost on Ratnam, who points out that a teacher or school employee’s actions and biases may influence what happens to a child.
To minimize harm, Ratnam called on the education system to better inform workers about what abuse actually is, systemic issues a family may experience, and ways to prioritize a child’s safety without jumping to home removal.
“It’s not enough to tell school staff there’s a duty to report,” she said. “You need to support the teachers and administrators in understanding the difference between abuse and a family needing support. Over-surveillance can traumatize a family. Under-surveillance can traumatize kids too.”
Helping child abuse survivors
Abused children and teens are advised to reach out to a trusted adult about their situation. If there are no safe adults in a youth’s life, Canadian organizations like Kids Help Phone provide counsellors at 1-800-668-6868 or over text.
Adult Canadians, especially those who work or interact with children often, should stay informed about the common signs of abuse in children and teens.
The Canadian government suggests people act quickly, but take steps to “protect the child from further harm.” Learning as much as possible about the young person’s circumstances and helping them safety plan are also recommended actions. Reassuring them that disclosing was the right thing to do is important too.
Ratnam recommends supports for families that centre their comfort levels and culture, like therapy and home visits from workers that teach parents necessary skills.
“Sometimes we forget parents also have jobs and multiple commitments outside of parenting, and we forget parents also need a break,” she said.
How adult survivors can start healing
The effects of child abuse can unfortunately last long after danger has passed. In a story for The Mighty, writer Simone Lisa described how her middle-class parents’ emotional neglect in her childhood, affected her later in life.
“My siblings have their own stories to tell, but for me the manifestation of abuse by omission resulted in my inability to recognize or regulate emotions,” Lisa wrote, noting that she’s now forgiven her parents and has worked hard on recovery.
There are many long-term physical, emotional, mental, and interpersonal challenges abuse survivors may face as adults, long after danger has passed. Common forms of treatment can include talk therapy, avoiding triggers like substance use, and finding closure through exercises like letter-writing to your past self, Global News reports. PTSD-specific and research-based treatments like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive or dialectical behavioural therapy, and family counselling can also be helpful.
And often, just the act of telling someone — whether you say a sentence to one person, share a few details among friends, or open up in an online support forum — has been shown to reduce symptoms for survivors of childhood abuse, who didn’t get the outside support they needed as kids.
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