Plight of abused adoptee may help others

Date: 2006-05-02

BOB KEMPER
Cox News Services

WASHINGTON - She was known as Disney World Girl, the Internet Girl or, more precisely, the Internet Porn Girl. But Masha Allen finally has an identity all her own and a newfound voice, and she is intent on telling the world how she, and an untold number of children like her, have been allowed to suffer.

Masha, now living in Douglasville, Ga., with her adoptive mother, was born in Russia to a father who abandoned her and an alcoholic mother who stabbed her. She was 5 years old and living in an orphanage in 1998 when an American man showed up to take her to what she thought would be a wonderful new life in America.

But the world Matthew Mancuso, a 39-year-old divorced engineer from Pittsburgh, brought her into was the furthest thing from wonderful. Masha's supporters, who will appear with the now 13-year-old girl at a congressional hearing today after having gone public with her story on national TV in December, say the adoption system, schools, social workers and police all failed her.

Mancuso, who on his adoption forms requested a 5-year-old girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, raped Masha that first night home and regularly after that for the next five years, according to records of the case. He limited her food so she would remain slight and look younger. At age 10, she fit in clothes made for a 6-year-old.

Investigators say Mancuso took hundreds of pictures of Masha partially clothed or naked in a variety of humiliating poses, and uploaded at least 200 pictures of her to the Internet. They've been traded and sold by pedophiles ever since.

Law enforcement officials believe 80 percent of the pedophiles under investigation around the world have in their collections at least one picture of Masha, said Maureen Flatley, an adoption consultant working with Masha.

"He procured her just for these purposes," Flatley said.

Canadian police tracked down Mancuso after identifying the backgrounds in Masha's pictures, including a fountain at Walt Disney World in Florida. Mancuso, now 46, is in a federal prison hospital in Massachusetts that manages sexual predators. With federal and state charges from Pennsylvania and Florida still pending against him, Mancuso is unlikely to ever be free again, authorities said.

Masha was readopted by Faith Allen of Douglasville. After hearing about her case, two Georgia Republicans - Rep. Phil Gingrey and Sen. Johnny Isakson - teamed with two Massachusetts Democrats - Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Tierney - to introduce legislation dubbed "Masha's Law" that would triple to $150,000 the penalty for those who download child pornography. It also would change current law so victims over age 18 could still sue anyone who buys, sells or distributes pictures of them taken at an earlier age.

"When I heard the description of how this Mancuso ? was able to go to Russia and fill out an application asking for a girl of a certain age, eye color and hair color - that's just scary, scary," said Gingrey, in whose district Masha now lives.

Isakson said, "The sexual exploitation of minors over the Internet is a horrendous crime of unbelievable proportions. We should be vigilant not only in passing laws but enforcing laws that hold people accountable."

Masha, Flatley and others will testify before the House subcommittee on oversight and investigation. Isakson and Gingrey are confident "Masha's Law" will eventually be approved. But it's less clear whether the Georgia girl's case will spark more expansive legislation that would increase regulation of the adoption process itself.

There are no national standards on adoption, Flatley said. How thoroughly the homes of prospective parents are investigated and the adults themselves are checked varies by state. In Masha's case, Mancuso had another daughter whom he was accused of molesting, but neither that girl nor Mancuso's ex-wife were interviewed, Flatley said.

In appearances on ABC's "PrimeTime," CNN and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in December and January, Masha said having her pictures still circulating around the globe was worse than the five years of abuse she endured with Mancuso. At least the abuse stopped, she said.

Bob Kemper writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: bkemper AT ajc.com

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