Alleged child abuse victim speaks out, teams up with local lawmaker to spark change

Sen. Matt McCoy wants a thorough investigation of DHS "from top to bottom"

DES MOINES - Another horrific case of alleged child abuse emerges, showing the failures of the Department of Human Services, the agency that is supposed to protect the kids who need help the most.

Now, a state senator says enough is enough. Sen. Matt McCoy s calling for hearings into the failures of Child Protective Services and even more government oversight.
Local 5's Orko Manna spoke with 18-year-old Malayia Knapp. She escaped her home more than a year ago - and what she says happened to her shows another failure of the DHS system. She is now speaking out about the abuse she endured for years, and why it might take a state senator's involvement to get the change she wants.
"I was laying there and I was yelling and I said you're going to kill me if you don't stop doing this, you're really going to kill me some day and I thought I was going to die," said Malayia Knapp, tears in her eyes.
Malayia says her foster mother, Mindy Knapp, started abusing her in 2008, when she was officially adopted into the family at the age of 10.
"She basically owned us and that we were going to have to live with her and deal with her for the rest of our lives and there wasn't anything we could do about it," Malayia said.
Malayia is one of six children who were in the care of the State of Iowa, then adopted by the Knapps. She says some of her siblings tried to escape before she did, but every time they tried, police would bring them home, believing whatever the mother told them.
The family used to attend church at Heritage Assembly, where Pastor James Snow noticed that something was off.
"She was treated a little different than the others and so we started asking questions about that but there was never any evidence of any kind of physical abuse," Pastor Snow said.
And that is because the evidence lied beneath the surface, as seen in photographs provided to Local 5 from Malayia, which show bruises and cuts on her arms and legs.
"Mindy would basically lock us up in a room and beat us and make us go without food and water for days," Malayia said.
But in December 2015, Malayia's life would change forever. Malayia was forced to run outside with no shoes and no coat, but during a brief moment when the mother, Mindy Knapp, was not watching, Malayia says she got away and told police everything - all while hiding inside a Casey's bathroom, located down the street from her home.
"Finally, they were hearing me," Malayia said.
On Dec. 14, 2015, a search warrant was executed at the house. Documents show Mindy Knapp was charged with two counts of assault causing bodily harm or mental illness. She was also charged with one count of assault, which she plead guilty to in April 2016. But, she was never charged with child abuse, so Mindy Knapp is still in custody of her other adopted children.
Since her escape, Malayia has been trying to move on. Now, she is a student and DMACC - and she lives with Pastor Snow and his family.
"She reached out to my wife on Facebook and started communicating with her and some of my older children," Pastor Snow said. "She has always loved out family, we loved her, and so she came and started living with us." 
But the only thing Malayia can think about is getting justice for her siblings.
"They're young and they're helpless and I was helpless," Malyaia said. "I just want my siblings to be safe and to have a chance at life and to be able to know what is normal."
Now that she is fully removed from the situation, Malayia is working with State Sen. Matt McCoy to find a solution.
"I think there's a special place in hell for anybody that would abuse a child and I think that we need to get after this as a legislature," Sen. McCoy said. "This is not acceptable this is not normal, and this should not be happening in our state."
But this is not the first time Sen. McCoy has been involved with a case like this. 16-year-old Natalie Finn died in October 2016, after her parents allegedly starved her to death - and from another failure of the state's DHS system.
Gov. Branstad said that personnel changes were made after Natalie's death, in the form of punishing the investigator and her supervisor.
Sen. McCoy got involved with Natalie Finn's case in December 2016, and now with Malayia speaking out, Sen. McCoy wants the government to take more action.
"[I want to fully investigate all of DHS including child protective services," Sen. McCoy said. "There were systematic failures by the department and so I think the department needs to examined from top to bottom."
Some immediate action Sen. McCoy wants to take includes begininng hearing to look into practices and failures at DHS, reviewing the vetting process for foster and adoptive families, and looking for ways to improve mandatory reporter training.
And although it is hard, Malayia hopes by sharing her story, she can also help bring in change.
"I really hate talking about it, I hate having a whole bunch of other people know about my life that I don't even know their name, but I want to do this for my siblings because its going to help them I hope and they're going to be able to speak up and for other kids who are in situations like this," Malayia said.
Another similarity between Malayia's case and the Natalie Finn case, is that both girls were home-schooled. Sen. McCoy says another issue he wants to tackle at the statehouse, is if home-schooled children are receiving supportive services from their local school districts.
Local 5 will be at the statehouse talking to lawmakers about what kind of legislation they want to see when it comes to home-schooled and adopted children. Stay with Local 5 for the latest - and you can check out our website for all our stories on the Natalie Finn case.


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