Articles Posted in Child Sexual Abuse

A recent investigation by The Oregonian found “that county employees had received reports of serious neglect or abuse” at what the newspaper describes as the city’s “premier mental health facility,” the Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Northeast Portland. These reports began to come in “within months of its opening in 2017.” In 16 cases “a police report should have been filed but none was found.”

This scandal fits a wider pattern that I have been writing about for several years. In day care centers, prisons and, now, mental health facilities people who have a legal obligation to watch for abuse are failing to do so. As I noted in a blog more than a year ago, laws that we often think of as focused on child abuse are, in fact, designed to protect vulnerable people more generally. Section 419B.005 of Oregon’s legal code sets standards for care and extends these to all forms of abuse and neglect. This state statute compliments 42 USC 1983, part of the federal legal code. Together, they make protection from abuse a civil right.

It offers little reassurance that once the cases were uncovered a spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office told The Oregonian “thankfully that number (16) is relatively low compared to what we fear we may find.”

The extraordinary news of a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles alleging that a major university looked the other way as a school doctor abused students, some of them Olympic-level athletes, is a stern but necessary reminder of the role our courts play in holding abusers to account.

According to detailed reporting by ESPN “officials at Michigan State University missed early warning signs about… the school doctor and former USA Gymnastics team physician accused in recent months of multiple sex crimes.”

According to ESPN, citing legal proceedings, the team doctor conducted what he called “inter-vaginal adjustments” on an 18-year-old athlete who had come to him for treatment of back pain. Over time the ‘treatments’ became more and more intrusive to a point where few reasonable people reading the descriptions of them could characterize them as anything other than sexual assault.

Last Friday the Oregon Senate unanimously approved “a bill aimed at ensuring that sexual assault evidence is submitted for lab testing in a timely manner and not left untouched on police evidence shelves,” according to a report in The Oregonian. The bill is named for a teenage Northeast Portland girl who was raped and murdered across the street from her home in 2001.

Melissa’s Bill, as it is known, focuses on untested sexual assault kits because of the discovery that “sexual assault kits from at least two other young teens raped by the girl’s killer four years earlier sat on the Portland Police Bureau’s evidence shelves” and were not tested until a connection was drawn between them and the 2001 case. According to the newspaper the girl’s parents hoped that their child’s death would at least lead to a change in police procedures, and to more timely testing of rape and assault kits. When a newspaper investigation revealed that despite the passage of more than a decade little had changed Melissa’s parents went to the legislature.

As described by the paper the bill will require that, beginning next January 1, “each police agency in Oregon shall adopt written policies and procedures concerning the collection, submission for testing and retention of the kits. Under the bill police must pick up the kits within seven days after a hospital alerts them about a kit’s existence and submit them to the state crime lab for testing within 14 days of receipt. All kits must be stored for 60 years.”

Following up my blog last month about the scandal and abuses at the Give Us This Day foster care center I am pleased to report that the Oregon legislature is making progress to address the important issue of injuries to children in Oregon’s foster care system.

As reported recently by The Oregonian, the Senate’s Human Services Committee has unanimously approved SB 1515 under which “Oregon’s foster care officials would have to produce public reports listing confirmed findings of abuse and neglect every three months.” The drive for this legislation was spurred by the scandal at the now-shuttered Give Us This Day facility which, the newspaper writes, is accused of misusing more than $2 million of public funds even as it “tolerated more than a decade of child abuse.”

The key thing to remember is that this scandal is not about one particular center, but, rather, about the entire way foster care is handled by the government here in Oregon and how much insight the public ought to be able to have into both the state’s actions and the providers with whom it works.

A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at a state youth correctional facility is calling attention to the responsibility Oregon and other states have to protect young people placed in their care. According to a recent article in The Oregonian a man in his early 40s has filed a suit in Marion County court alleging that “as a teenager in 1991 he was repeatedly coaxed into a laundry room and a bathroom and then sexually abused by two female staff members at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.”

This case caught my eye because it is a powerful reminder that injuries to, and sexual abuse of, children can and should be addressed by our justice system even if a significant amount of time has passed. According to the paper the victim, identified in the suit only as “John Doe” had not “reported the MacLaren employees to police or others, the suit says, because he didn’t see the behavior for what it was.” No person who has suffered in this way should be denied justice solely because they were too afraid to come forward at the time the offense was committed. Therefore it is heartening to see this case proceeding despite the passage of nearly 25 years.

Even more importantly, “the suit states that sexual abuse at the youth prison in the 1990s wasn’t just isolated to Doe. The suit claims that the two women abused at least three other boys – and that one of the women ended up marrying a youth offender after the two had a sexual relationship at MacLaren. The lawsuit faults the Oregon Youth Authority for allegedly ‘fostering’ an atmosphere where sexual abuse of youths was known and ignored or condoned.”

An important decision announced yesterday by the Oregon Supreme Court bolsters both the principle of openness in our court system and the idea that a key function of the courts is to enforce accountability.

According to the New York Times a unanimous ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court “cleared the way… for the release of thousands of pages of documents detailing accusations and investigations of sexual abuse or other improprieties by Boy Scout leaders around the nation from the mid-1960s into the 1980s.” The documents, which the Scouts’ leadership referred to as “the perversion files” were the keystone of the 2010 sexual abuse case that focused national attention on the organization. The organization was fined over $18 million because of its efforts to cover up the abuse of young boys rather than reporting it to authorities.

It is sad to see that even now the Scouts seem more concerned about protecting their organizational reputation than they are about the many injuries to children enabled by their decades-long conduct. As described by the Times, the files “were kept as a way of weeding out bad leaders and preventing abuse” but proved to be especially damaging to the organization because they offered proof that the Scouts’ leadership knew of cases of sexual abuse but did nothing to bring the guilty adults to justice.

A Supreme Court decision issued today allows an Oregon sexual abuse lawsuit against the Vatican to go forward, raising the possibility that the Catholic Church may have to defend itself in Oregon courts against allegations that it covered up repeated abuse by a priest.

The Oregon child abuse case, officially known as Holy See v John Doe, was brought by an alleged abuse victim. It turns on the actions of Father Andrew Ronan, an Irishman who the church moved from his native country to Chicago and later to Portland as abuse accusations followed him from place to place from the 1950s through the 1980s, according to Associated Press. Ronan died in 1992. The suit’s plaintiff is seeking damages from the church, as Ronan’s employer, for abuse he suffered as a teenager in 1965.

The Vatican, in turn, claims that as a sovereign state it is shielded from such liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act – a law that prevents individuals from suing foreign countries except in a few, relatively narrow, circumstances. On Monday the Supreme Court turned down the Vatican’s appeal, letting lower court rulings in favor of the plaintiff stand. Those earlier rulings held that the Vatican’s sovereign immunity was not absolute and that the church “could be sued in a U.S. court on certain grounds,” according to the Washington Post.

Following up a story I blogged about earlier this month, the news broke late last week that an Oregon jury has awarded the victim $18.5 million in punitive damages in a high-profile Oregon child sexual abuse case involving the Boy Scouts, according to media reports. Earlier this month the Oregon jury awarded $1.4 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. The victim in this case, now 38, sued after determining that a scoutmaster had abused him in the 1980s.

As I’ve previously written, this case has attracted national attention. The New York Times noted that the case marked a rare instance in which the Boy Scouts’ confidential files on alleged sexual abuse and other inappropriate behavior by scout leaders were available to a jury. According to the Times: “Known variously as the “perversion files,” the “red flag files” and the “ineligible volunteer files,” the documents have been maintained for more than 70 years at the Scouts’ national office in Texas.” According to The Oregonian, the case marked only the second time that the records had been available to a jury.

Still to be decided by the judge is whether the files seen by the jury will now also be opened for public scrutiny. According to The Oregonian the Boy Scouts currently have about 2.8 million members, supervised by 1.1 million adult volunteers. The organization began running criminal background checks on volunteers in 2003, the paper reports. Numerous media reports have indicated that the precedent set by opening the Scouts’ files may unleash a flood of litigation nationwide.

A leading expert on child sexual abuse says a Portland court’s verdict holding the Boy Scouts liable for the Oregon child sexual abuse of one of their scouts in the 1980s has the potential to set loose a flood of litigation, similar to what the Catholic Church has experienced in recent years, according to a recent report in The Oregonian.

That analysis comes in the wake of a $1.4 million Oregon jury verdict against the Boy Scouts of America and their local affiliate, the Cascade Pacific Council. The victim, now 38, was molested by a scoutmaster in 1983 and 1984, according to a report in USA Today. In an interview with The Oregonian the victim said he had come forward after so many years because he only recently realized how seriously the mental trauma of the molestation had affected his later life. Changes to Oregon’s sexual abuse laws enacted last year have extended the period of time after an incident of abuse in which an alleged victim can bring suit.

A statement posted on the Boy Scouts of America’s website described the organization as both “gravely disappointed” in the verdict and “saddened by what happened to the plaintiff,” The Oregonian reported. The Scouts now face a second phase of the trial in which punitive damages will be considered. The victim is seeking $25 million.

A 62-year-old Portland man is suing the Franciscan Friars of California for injuries he says he sustained as a child when a priest sexually abused him. In his Oregon sex abuse lawsuit, he is seeking $4 million in damages. The plaintiff claims Father Claude Riffe sexually abused him during the 60’s at the St. Francis Minor Seminary in Troutdale.

Clergy Sex Abuse

Clergy sex abuse by a number of priests and other members of the Catholic Church has been a problem for a long time. Fortunately, there are legal remedies available to victims—whether they are still children who were recently abused or adults who were the victims of sexual abuse when they were children.

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