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"The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year."
– Mark Twain  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 4 April 2019  

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    Child pornography and the young brain
    Marijuana tax: where’s the money?
    Health and healing through horses
 
  Child pornography and the young brain
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Ten percent of people who visit pornography sites online are younger than 10 years old. The average age of a person’s first exposure to pornography is 11.
   
   The first statistic was cited in a study conducted by Bitdefender and posted online Sept. 20, 2016, at http://hotforsecurity.bitdefender.com. A “Huffington Post” article from Feb. 26, 2017, “Parenting in the Digital Age of Pornography,” referenced the second statistic.
   
   Dr. George Athey, a board certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with Peak Vista Community Health Centers, said the pornography industry is one of the most lucrative industries on the internet, and the prevalence of pornographic material means kids are more likely than ever to be exposed to it, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
   
   “You can try typing in something innocuous like ‘whitehouse.com’ looking for information about the government, but it takes you to a porn site,” Athey said.
   
   He said even one exposure of online pornography is a big deal. “From about 11 to 15 years old, the teenage brain is developing in the very areas that make them the most sensitive to becoming addicted to things,” Athey said. “We do not want kids being turned on sexually and emotionally by sexual content at 11 years old.”
   
   According to a PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Jennifer Brown posted on the Utah Coalition Against Pornography’s website, when children are exposed to sexually explicit images, their bodies go into the “fight-or-flight” stress response. The stress response releases the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and the hormones cortisol, norepinephrine and testosterone.
   
   In the presentation, Brown said, “Stress neurotransmitters and hormones inhibit the prefrontal cortex and stimulate the basal ganglia. With the basal ganglia in charge, the individual becomes more compulsive and driven by immediate gratification. They essentially become more like animals driven by reward stimulation.”
   
   Kim Boyd, Ph.D., director of community care for El Paso County Colorado School District 49 and licensed clinical and school psychologist, said the young developing brain is so susceptible to those surges that, when they view pornographic materials, it can actually change their brain.
   
   Once a kid’s brain is stimulated –- or turned on –- by sexual material like pornography, they cannot turn that off again, she said. “They become quickly addicted and then their addiction has them looking for more hardcore types of things,” Boyd said. “It is kind of like an opioid addiction. They find the content that they normally look for but it no longer works for them, and the normal thing to trigger a sexual response is not enough to trigger that anymore.”
   
   Athey said the brain changes with each exposure to an addictive stimulus such as pornography. Like drug addicts, pornography addicts are always trying to get that same “high” they got from that first exposure, and they never will. “It takes something more stimulating each time because the brain has changed and they cannot get the same feeling with the usual amount,” he said. “It always has to escalate.”
   
   On July 19, 2013, the “Journal of Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology” published an article, “Pornography addiction –- a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity,” that also discussed addiction. Pornography … alters a brain’s makeup at the synaptic level, which then manipulates future behavior, leading a person to engage in that addictive behavior again and again.
   
   Boyd said society has normalized the concept of viewing pornography to the point where kids begin to think everyone does this, which is not true. When it appears to be normal behavior for adults, kids begin to think it should be normal for them, too, she said.
   
   However, the content of most pornographic material is far from normal, Boyd said. “Porn depicts relationships in an absolutely distorted manner, and the relationships these kids have with both the same and opposite sexes can be seriously damaged,” she said. “After a child has run their way through viewing pornographic material, they may escalate to trying to act out these scenarios or situations and do not have the understanding and forethought to deal with those consequences.”
   
   Athey agreed that the normalization of inappropriate sexual activity has become a huge problem. He said most pornography out there is not normal sexuality; it is abuse of women. If that type of behavior is what kids learn at an early age, it negatively changes the way they view sex; and they are more likely to engage in abusive sexual behavior, he said.
   
   “I have run a program for kids who have been sexually abused; and, of those kids, many of them also then become sexual perpetrators,” Athey said. This can become a vicious cycle because sexual abusers are often being fueled by pornography, he said.
   
   According to a study conducted in 2010 by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, while exposure to violent pornography does not necessarily cause sexual aggression, kids and teens who look at violent pornography are six times more likely to force someone to do something sexual, either online or in person, compared to kids and teens who had not been exposed to such material.
   
   Athey said this type of aggressive behavior can show up when a child pressures another to send sexual content via smartphone, which is known as sexting. “It is mainly girls who are kind of pressured into sending sexual pictures of themselves to somebody,” he said. “There is really an abuse potential in it because they are being pressured in a negative way to do things they should not do and know they should not do.”
   
   Sexting images are often used to blackmail the person in the photograph, or the images are sent to people other than the intended recipient, Athey said. However, many kids and teens do not know that sharing sexual content of a person under the age of 18 is illegal in Colorado, even if the person in the picture is the person sending the text, he said. Anyone found in possession of those images is in violation of the law because it is considered child pornography, Athey said.
   
   Matt Graff, a diversion officer with the El Paso County District Attorney’s office, said consequences for possession of pornography vary. “The offense can be considered a petty offense civil infraction all the way up to a felony in extraordinary circumstances,” Graff said. “Some of these kids do not have a clue that it is illegal.”
   
   Being charged with possession of child pornography has potentially life-long consequences, such as having to register with the state as a sex offender, but EPC has developed an educational diversion program that is used as a first line of response for someone caught sexting, Graff said. The program, which is held the first Monday of every month, addresses internet safety, sexting and cyber bullying; and features a presentation developed by the National Center for Exploited Children, he said.
   
   “It is ultimately up to the prosecutors if they want to charge someone with possession of child pornography,” Graff said. “When we can, however, the diversion program is what we want to do with these kids if we are not seeing other concerning circumstances.”
   
   Both Athey and Boyd agreed that parents who are concerned their child has been exposed to pornography or is involved in sexting should seek the help of a mental health professional.
   Information and resources to seek help for pornography addiction can be found online at various websites, including http://fightthenewdrug.org,
   
   The internet safety video through the NCMEC can be found at http:/missingkids.com.
  
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  Marijuana tax: where’s the money?
  By Lindsey Harrison

   In November 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, legalizing marijuana for adults over age 21. As part of that amendment, the Colorado General Assembly was required to enact an excise tax on wholesale sales of marijuana, with the first $40 million in revenue each year earmarked for the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, according to Ballotpedia.com.
   
   In an article posted on The Denver Channel’s website April 26, 2018, Jeremy Meyer, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education, was quoted: “Amendment 64 was specific on where the money would go, the only thing it said about education specifically was the first $40 million of excise taxes would go toward school construction projects so that’s what voters approved.”
   
   However, the article noted that most of the money would go to schools through the Building Excellent Schools Today program.
   
   According to the CDE’s website, the B.E.S.T. program was established in 2008 and “provides an annual amount of funding in the form of competitive grants to school districts, charter schools, institute charter schools, boards of cooperative educational services, and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.”
   
   Funds from the B.E.S.T. program are dispersed through grants, which the 178 school districts must apply to receive, the website states. Each of the entities that can apply for B.E.S.T. grants must make a minimum funds match, ranging from 9 percent to 86 percent for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. El Paso County Colorado School District 49’s minimum funds match is 85 percent.
   
   An article posted on Colorado Public Radio News website Oct. 22, 2018, states that almost none of the money obtained from marijuana sales tax goes to schools’ operations budgets, which pay for things like teachers’ salaries, supplies and anything related to daily operations.
   
   “Total marijuana tax revenue for Colorado’s public schools, including the B.E.S.T. fund was $90.3 million in 2017-18,” the article states. “That is 1.6 percent of the entire K-12 school budget of $5.6 billion.”
   
   The Colorado Department of Revenue’s website states that for calendar year 2018, from January through November, total marijuana sales reached $1,410,946,626, up from $683,523,739 in 2014.
   
   With more than twice the amount of marijuana sales, schools across the state would expect to see an increase in the amount of funding they receive from the sales tax, said Sen. Paul Lundeen, District 9. “I have been a champion for getting tax money to the schools,” he said. “I want to get the money to the districts, students and classrooms but that is just not how the system is set up.”
   
   The article on CPR’s website breaks down where the marijuana sales tax goes as follows:
  • A 15 percent excise tax on marijuana growers, the first 90 percent –- or $40 million, whichever is greater –- going to the B.E.S.T. fund
  • A 15 percent special sales tax on retail sales is split 90-10 between Colorado’s state government and local governments, with a “small share” going into the CDE’s State Public School Fund
  • A 2.9 percent regular state sales tax on medical marijuana, which goes into the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund, some of which was dispersed to schools in the form of grants in 2017-2018
  • Local marijuana taxes, which vary from location to location

   An article posted on the Denver Post’s website on Dec. 28, 2018, states that neither the city of Colorado Springs nor EPC received tax revenue from marijuana sales.
   
   According to the CPR article, the 2018-2019 fiscal year will designate retail tax revenue as follows:
  • 15.56 percent to the state’s general fund
  • 71.85 percent to the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund
  • 12.59 percent to the State Public School Fund, which is then dispersed to all school districts

   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer for District 49, said the district will not see a change to the funds it receives from the increased tax revenue. The district does not apply for B.E.S.T. funds
   
   Lundeen said he will continue to push for legislation that moves more money to the public education system.
  
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  Health and healing through horses
  Mark Stoller

   A horse can mirror a human’s feelings and has the power to heal, according to a study by Alliant International University. Horses can immediately detect a human’s emotional state, intentions and needs by reading body language and energy. 
   
   Shannon Mitchell, executive director of Stable Strides, said, “We work with the horse’s emotional state to teach the client how others may see their behavior. If the client has a bad day and arrives angry, the horse picks up on that emotion and keeps its distance. The client is coached to control their emotion to bring the horse closer. The therapist helps the client identify how they settled themselves down to repeat the process again later.”
   
   Nestled in the Latigo Equestrian Center in Elbert, Mitchell directs the activities of Stable Stride’s nine support staff, six instructors and four licensed professional therapists. Thirty-seven years ago, the equine therapy group started as Acts 19:11, transitioned to Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center and is now Stable Strides.
   
   Four years ago, the Dom Cimino Center at Norris Penrose was added for equine mental health services. For Colorado Springs clients, it is conveniently located along bus lines.
   
   The Stable Strides website states they provide treatment in three categories: mental health, hippotherapy and therapeutic riding.
   
   Equine facilitated psychotherapy allows therapists to assist mental health clients with processing feelings, thoughts and reactions while living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or other mental health challenges.
   
   Hippotherapy utilizes the horse’s strides, which mimic human strides, to provide physical and neurological stimulation to the client’s body. The horse’s stride provides three-dimensional motion to assist with cerebral palsy, sensory integration disorders, traumatic brain injury and more.
   
   Therapeutic riding provides the same physical motion therapy as hippotherapy and is available for clients at a higher level of physical and emotional independence.
   
   One Stable Strides resolution for 2019 involves educating the public on the success of equine therapy. “Equine therapy has such a lasting effect on people,” Mitchell said. “Traditional therapy relies on people having to come back repeatedly to an office and feels like a life sentence sometimes. We are giving people tools to cope in difficult situations, live their lives and reach a level of independence.
   
   “We are also working with Children’s Hospital and Colorado State University who are conducting evidence-based research on the benefits of equine therapy. Once they’re funded, we can be a part of those studies by providing the clients, horses and instructors for their research.”
   
   Describing resources available to clients, Mitchell said, “All of our instructors are required to be certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and we are a PATH premier accredited center. We employ mental health therapists licensed through the state of Colorado.”
   
   She said initial meetings between therapists and clients are conducted in the office. They match a horse to the client for ongoing sessions. “Docile horses are great for hippotherapy, and horses with an ornery personality can be better for mental health clients,” Mitchell said.
   
   Stable Strides provides therapeutic services for children, teens and adults. Statistics from 2018 indicate a marked increase in provided services. “Client numbers have increased from 600 to over 730,” she said. “Across the three categories, 63 percent of clients are seen for mental health, 25 percent therapeutic riding, and 12 percent hippotherapy. We see about 110 clients each week; and, throughout the year, conduct over 4,300 interactions between horse and client.” Mitchell said there were about 1,000 more horse and client interactions from 2017 to 2018.
   
   Medical diagnosis is not required to seek assistance at Stable Strides. “For mental health, we’ll see them without a diagnosis. Our on-site therapists can help determine if there is an adaptive need,” she said.
   
   “Most insurance companies will only cover the mental health therapy. It was determined insurance companies cannot dictate how a credentialed therapist provides their therapy such as play, music, equine, etc. Medicaid will pay for hippotherapy, although it is a very specific, difficult process and must be billed as experimental.”
   
   Mitchell said Children’s Hospital is a firm believer in equine therapy and transports children to the Stable Strides Latigo location for 30 minutes of “hippotherapy and off-horse clinical therapy.”
   
   More than 250 veterans, active duty, and their family members receive help at Stable Strides. They are referred from Fort Carson and Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center. “Our therapists and instructors are trained in the military culture through recurring (and) annual TriCare, Fort Carson and advocacy group-sponsored courses,” Mitchell said. “Additionally, a number of our instructors are veterans and military spouses and still very familiar with the military community.”
   
   Stable Strides provides an opportunity for veterans and active duty service members to receive free therapy. Mitchell said a long-term volunteer, “Mack,” passed away and left a legacy gift to ensure military members can receive the help they need. “We honored his efforts by changing Horses for Heroes to Operation Mack,” she said.
   
   Mitchell talked about the “epidemic” of suicides in the military. “We completed an equine therapy research study through Fort Carson, looking at soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and test results with high suicide indicators,” she said. “After eight weeks of equine therapy, those same individuals were tested again. We saw a 62 percent reduction in suicide indicators. Equine therapy can do more than change lives — it can truly save lives.”
   
   To commemorate their healing success and raise awareness, Stable Strides will host its first annual Red, White, & Blue Celebration Friday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Norris Penrose Event Center. This free event raises funds to support area service members and veterans on their healing journeys with horses. A catered lunch will be provided, and a keynote speaker will be featured. There is a registration link on the Stable Strides website.
   
   To learn more about Stable Strides, donate or volunteer at the facility, visit
   https://stablestrides.org or call 719-495-3908. Stable Strides is located at 13620 Halleluiah Trail (to the right of the Latigo Trail Equestrian Center).
  
All of the instructors at Stable Strides are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and the program is a PATH premier accredited center: staff include (from left to right) Chester DeAngelis, program director; Melissa Anthony, grants and research director; Maggie Roberts, equine manager; Michael Mersman, operations and volunteer program director; Shannon Mitchell, executive director; Jenna Miller, office manager; April Wade, PATH certified instructor; and Charlie, the happy dog
 
Stable Strides volunteers Lyn Blevins (left) and Susan Keene guide a therapeutic riding session for Jeff, who is atop Bear.
 
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