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Sexual Abuse

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A group of lawyers released a report Feb. 5 compiling allegations of sexual abuse of children made against 51 individuals associated with The Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse, a national team of attorneys dedicated to representing victims of sexual abuse, compiled and released the list in an effort to raise awareness about alleged clergy sex abuse on Long Island by providing the public with a list of accused abusers and which church they work or worked at, according to a press release from the group. The list includes allegations against several employees of North Shore churches and schools. TBR News Media will not link to the report or mention specific allegations against individuals, churches or schools until they can be independently verified. The newspaper is also aware of the presumption that people are innocent until proven guilty.

According to the report, called Hidden Disgrace II, most of the allegations have not been heard in a court because they were reported after the expiration of statutes of limitations. The report says the allegations should not be considered substantiated claims, but rather public accusations, unless otherwise indicated in the report.

In 2003, a Suffolk County grand jury investigated the issue of clergy sex abuse in the Rockville Centre diocese and released a more than 180-page report detailing allegations against 23 unnamed priests and actions by diocese officials to conceal abuse. In a section of the Feb. 5 report entitled “methodology,” it says many of the 51 named individuals in Hidden Disgrace II were described, but not officially named in the 2003 grand jury report. Some of the 51 named individuals were subsequently identified by survivors and the media following the grand jury report. Others in Hidden Disgrace II were named by individuals who came forward to share their story with the law group or media outlets.

“The public needs more information about these alleged predators and the churches, schools and communities where they worked,” said attorney Jerry Kristal, of Weitz & Luxenberg, one of three law firms associated with the group. Noaker Law Firm LLC and James, Vernon & Weeks P.A. are the others. “The Rockville Centre Diocese’s silence on the issue has only served the accused abusers and left survivors and local communities in the dark.”

An email requesting comment from The Diocese of Rockville Centre’s communications team was not immediately returned.

This story will be updated as more information is available.

Within the Crime Victims Center, a children’s play therapy area is designed to allow children to play out their trauma with a therapist, and to prepare for court appearances. Photo by Alex Petroski

In a time of changing cultural and societal norms related to the treatment of victims of sexual abuse, Laura Ahearn now has a movement behind her decades-long mission.

The founder of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, a not-for-profit organization, has been a relentless advocate for victims since the late ‘90s. What started as a small operation running out of her Three Village home advocating for sex offender registration has grown into a three-pronged program that is used as a model by other advocacy groups. The CVC assists victims of child sex abuse and rape, provides  services to victims of violent crime, and assists elderly, disabled and minor victims of all crime. Its mission is now virtually a daily part of the national conversation.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment.”

— Laura Ahearn

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for organizations like ours that have worked with child sexual abuse and adult victims of sex crimes to be able to open up a dialogue now with a higher volume of a voice with state, local and federal legislators,” Ahearn said after attending a breakfast at Stony Brook University that featured lawmakers from across Long Island and all levels of government. The meeting was part of a daylong event designed to start a conversation about localizing the national #MeToo movement, a social media campaign started by Tarana Burke, a survivor of sexual violence. Burke also attended the SBU event.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment, and a society or environment whose prevailing social  attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Ahearn said.

The group has a list of legislative goals it would like to advance in 2018, like criminalizing “revenge porn” and advancing the Child Victims Act, a state law that has passed the Assembly but not the Senate, which would extend the time frame for a victim to bring forward allegations against an abuser.

Victim advocacy

Though its actual functions have evolved over the years, advocating for victims remains Ahearn’s and the CVC’s primary objective.

The center, with locations in Ronkonkoma and Patchogue, is a certified rape crisis center.
The group has long provided advocacy for child victims of sexual abuse, and has since added advocacy components for adult rape and adult domestic violence victims. In 2006, the mission shifted to provide support for victims of all violent or hate crimes.

“These are cases that are failing between the cracks and no one was helping them,” said Ahearn said, a New York State licensed attorney and social worker.

“You feel like ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

— Sally McDonald

Since 2015, the organization has been fed cases from the Suffolk County Police Department and District Attorney’s office through a cloud-based computer software program, allowing the CVC to directly contact innocent victims to begin providing support under the direction of Mike Gunther, CVC’s director of advocacy and victim services. The cloud program has served to streamline a process it had been carrying out since 1999. Ahearn said the CVC has helped to recoup $5.5 million for Suffolk County crime victims from a county fund to cover unexpected costs for innocent victims, as some have health insurance costs or other expenses to cover in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. Currently, the CVC has between 2,500 and 3,000 cases it’s handling, and its founder said the organization is always in need of more case managers.

The group regularly sends advocates Diana Shuffler and Diana Guzman to Human Trafficking Intervention Court, a New York state initiative established to aid victims of human trafficking in every aspect of getting their life back on track, and put legal issues behind them. Prior to the program’s inception, Guzman said victims of human trafficking picked up for other crimes like prostitution were treated like criminals. The CVC even works with the FBI.

Sally McDonald, a certified therapist and victim advocate at the CVC who is passionate about the work  she does, said she has cases with victims ranging from 4 years old to adults in their 60s.

“It’s exciting — it’s so nice to see anybody do well, but especially a child,” she said of seeing someone’s life improve as a result of her work. “You feel like ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

Ahearn stressed the importance of following up with victims and ensuring his or her traumatic incident is truly behind them.

“Whenever you’re dealing with any kind of violent crime or trauma, unless there are support services, those are individuals that are going to need help,” she said. “If they’re not getting the help they need … those kids whose families were victims of violent crime are going to gravitate toward who they believe is going to protect them, and in those communities that would be the ones that, believe it or not, are the perpetrators.”

“Whenever you’re dealing with any kind of violent crime or trauma, unless there are support services, those are individuals that are going to need help.”

— Laura Ahearn

The Ronkonkoma office features therapy rooms for all ages, including a child therapy room where kids are prepared for what to expect in a court setting, or play out personal trauma using a sandbox, toys or art therapy.

Sex offender monitoring

Megan’s Law gets its name from an incident in the mid-‘90s in which 7-year-old Megan Kanka from New Jersey was lured into a neighbor’s home, sexually assaulted and murdered. The culprit was a twice-convicted sex offender, and after a nationwide lobbying effort, Megan’s Law was passed in 1996 and required all 50 states to release information to the public about known convicted sex offenders.

Ahearn was one of those involved in the lobbying effort, and Parents for Megan’s Law was born. In 2014 the CVC implemented a new monitoring program to keep addresses and other important information about the county’s roughly 1,000 registered sex offenders current. Ahearn’s sex offender monitoring staff is comprised entirely of retired law enforcement officers, who regularly check up on the people on the list face-to-face to ensure their information is accurate and up to date.

The organization also has a Megan’s Law helpline as well as a tip line, should community members want to report anything related to a registered sex offender in their area.

Prevention

When describing the CVC’s prevention arm, Ahearn uses an analogy. Imagine you’re fishing, she says, and three separate times during the day you have to dive in the river to save people who were drowning as they headed downstream. How many times would you have to dive in the water to save a life before heading upstream to see why so many people are falling in the water and nearly drowning?

Led by prevention program manager Kim Malone, the CVC provides workshops for children, teens, parents and adults designed to empower them with knowledge and skills aimed at protecting against sexual abuse and abduction.

The CVC offers workshops for schools and organizations geared toward every age group.

To contact the Crime Victims Center call 631-689-2672 or visit www.parentsformeganslaw.org.

This story was updated Jan. 31 to correct the spelling of Laura Ahearn’s name.

#MeToo social media movement founder Tarana Burke answers questions during a public forum at Stony Brook University. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Island men and women are prepared to keep the #MeToo conversation going in their communities after an appearance by the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, at Stony Brook University Jan. 28.

More than 500 people filled the Sidney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center for #MeToo … #LIToo, a Q&A with Burke led by three young women of i-tri girls, a free program working to raise the self-esteem of middle school-aged girls on the Island’s East End by training them for a triathlon. Abby Roden, Noely Martinez and Maria Chavez posed questions to Burke that covered a range of topics, from how she felt when the #MeToo movement gained momentum, to empowering survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, to showing empathy when a someone shares his or her story.

Burke, a survivor of sexual violence, said it can be difficult to talk about sexual assaults or harassment because he or she feels isolated.

“The idea behind #MeToo being an exchange of empathy is that if you tell me this thing that is already difficult to say, one of the hardest things in your life, and my first response is, ‘Me too,’ that draws you in,” she said. “Regardless of what else is discussed, we have an automatic connection now.”

Giving advice for those who may not be able to say “me too” when a survivor shares a story, Burke said the best thing to do is ask what he or she needs. If the person says nothing, don’t keep asking.

After the #MeToo movement went viral Burke felt crippled. She said she stopped reading comments on her social media posts, even though most responses were thoughtful.

“I had people telling me I was too ugly to get raped, sexually harassed,” Burke said, adding that she is thick-skinned, and didn’t let the comments get to her. “‘You look like a man.’ Just awful, awful things.”

The movement also affects the LGBTQ community — something Burke said is personal for her, as her daughter identifies as queer and gender nonconforming. She said many young people in the LGBTQ community deal with sexual abuse, and it’s important they tell their stories, too.

“Survivors of sexual violence, we’re not victims,” Burke said. “That’s why we call ourselves survivors. We have solutions, we have answers and we have the experience.”

Attendees said the forum was uplifting and meaningful.

“It was very empowering and definitely brought the community together,” said Cassandra Gonzalez, a graduate student at LIU Post. “It just brings awareness to the #MeToo movement.”

Retired teacher Terry Kalb, of Wading River, said Burke is skilled at connecting others through experiences, calling the forum “beyond inspiring.”

“I liked the fact that there was such emphasis on the intersectionality of this issue,” Kalb said. “I think it’s very important that the vast majority of the people who are marginalized with domestic violence issues, sexual harassment issues and sexual violence issues — all people — are afforded a voice. This just can’t be about celebrity issues; it has to be about people who are often powerless to be able to respond. That they be the focus, because that’s where the most damage is done.”

Updated Feb. 1 to add additional quotes from Tarana Burke.

Aimee Otero. Photo from SCPD

Rocky Point subsitute teach Aimee Otero has ben arrested for inappropriately touching a student at Rocky Point High School, according to Suffolk County Police.

Last month, Special Victims Section detectives began an investigation into the conduct of Otero after being contacted by administrators at Rocky Point Union Free School District. Detectives determined Otero, 25, inappropriately touched a 16-year-old male student in a Rocky Point classroom April 7.

Special Victims Section detectives arrested and charged Otero, of Coram, with third-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. Otero was issued a desk appearance ticket and will be arraigned on a later date.

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring addressed the incident in an emailed statement through a district spokeswoman.

“The district has been notified by Suffolk County Police that a substitute teacher, who has worked for the district at the secondary level, has been arrested for inappropriate conduct with a Rocky Point High School student,” he said. “The arrest comes after the district was made aware of allegations brought forth by the student, and after the district conducted our own internal investigation during which we brought the matter to the attention of law enforcement.

“The district is always committed to the safety and well–being of our students and we take matters such as this very seriously. The individual responsible for these allegations, who passed all mandatory New York State background checks prior to employment, has worked as a substitute teacher in the district for varying lengths of time since November 2015. Based on these allegations and subsequent arrest, this person will no longer work for the district.

“I thank you for understanding that the district is not at liberty to share any further details as this is a criminal matter and the parties involved are entitled to privacy.”

Attorney information for Otero was not immediately available.

This story was updated May 5 at 1:50 p.m. to include Ring’s statement.

By Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County is entering obscure territory this year as some sex offenders drop off the state registry and others have lost restrictions on where they can live.

Laura Ahearn has advocated for local governments to have the power to regulate where registered sex offenders live. File photo
Laura Ahearn has advocated for local governments to have the power to regulate where registered sex offenders live. File photo

It was exactly one year ago that the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that local laws restricting where sex offenders could live were invalid, following a lawsuit from a registered offender from Nassau County who challenged his own government’s rule that prohibited him from living within 1,000 feet from a school. Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote in his decision that “a local government’s police power is not absolute” and is pre-empted by state law.

State regulations already prohibit certain sex offenders who are on parole or probation from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other child care facility, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, but the local laws went further. In Suffolk County, Chapter 745 made it illegal for all registered sex offenders — not just those on parole or probation — to live within a quarter mile of schools, day care centers, playgrounds or their victims. But following Pigott’s decision, that law, while still technically on the books, is no longer enforceable.

To make matters more complicated, Jan. 1 marked the beginning of the end for some of the lowest level sex offenders on the state registry.

Offenders are grouped into one of three levels based on their perceived risk of committing another sex crime. On the lowest rung, Level 1 offenders who have not received special designations for being violent, being repeat offenders or having a “mental abnormality or personality disorder” that makes the person “likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses,” according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, are only included on the registry for 20 years from their conviction. The New York State correction law enacting that system has just turned 20 years old, meaning the earliest offenders added to the registry are beginning to drop off.

The Sex Offender Registration Act obligates Level 2 and Level 3 offenders, as well as those with the additional designations, to remain on the registry for life, although there is a provision under which certain Level 2 offenders can appeal to be removed after a period of 30 years.

At a recent civic association meeting in Port Jefferson Station, Laura Ahearn from the advocacy group Parents for Megan’s Law — which raises awareness about sex crime issues and monitors offenders — gave examples of offenders set to come off the registry this year, including a man who raped a 4-year-old girl, and another who raped and sodomized a woman.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“It is thousands over time that are going to drop off,” Ahearn said.

A database search of Level 1 offenders along the North Shore of Suffolk County turned up many offenders who had been convicted of statutory rape or possession of child pornography, and who had served little to no time in jail. However, there were more serious offenses as well.

“You know when an adult man or an adult woman rapes a 4-year-old, that is just shocking. That [should be] a lifetime registration.”
— Laura Ahearn

Some of the undesignated Level 1 offenders who were convicted shortly after the Sex Offender Registration Act was created include a Smithtown man, now 43, convicted of first-degree sexual abuse against a 19-year-old; a 61-year-old Rocky Point man who sexually abused a 12-year-old girl more than once; a Huntington man, now 40, who sexually abused an 11-year-old; and a Rocky Point man convicted of incest with a 17-year-old.

Ahearn’s group has argued that sex offenders are more likely to reoffend as time goes on. According to Parents for Megan’s Law, recidivism rates are estimated to be 14 percent after five years and 27 percent after 20 years.

One midnight in January, Suffolk County police arrested a 48-year-old man, later discovered to be a registered Level 1 sex offender, in Fort Salonga after the suspect was allegedly caught undressed inside a vehicle with a 14-year-old boy. Police reported at the time that the two arranged the meeting over a cellphone application and there had been sexual contact.

The man had been convicted of sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old girl in 2003 and was sentenced to six years of probation. His new charges included criminal sex act and endangering the welfare of a child.

“So it makes no sense logically” to let Level 1 offenders drop off the registry after 20 years, Ahearn said in Port Jefferson Station. She has advocated for the terms to be extended or to have offenders appeal to be removed from the registry, like Level 2 offenders can after 30 years, so it can be decided on a case-by-case basis.

It’s a “you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing, because you know when an adult man or an adult woman rapes a 4-year-old, that is just shocking,” she said. “That [should be] a lifetime registration.”

Even if the offenders remain on the registry, the court ruling that struck down restrictions on where most offenders can live has made matters trickier.

Ahearn said the fact that multiple layers of local government had enacted restrictions contributed to the situation.

“What happened is it got out of control,” she said.

County and town laws previously restricted sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds. File photo
County and town laws previously restricted sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds. File photo

Below the Suffolk County level, for example, the Town of Brookhaven had its own restrictions that prohibited offenders from living within a quarter mile of schools, playgrounds or parks.

There are bills floating around the state government that would tighten restrictions on where certain sex offenders could live, but the only one that has gained traction is a bill state Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) sponsored, along with state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), that would return to local governments the power to regulate where offenders can reside.

“Local laws designed to protect children against registered sex offenders are enacted in response to unique conditions and concerns of specific communities and should act in complement with existing state law,” the bill’s summary read.

Although the bill passed the Senate last year, it died in the Assembly. But Venditto reintroduced his proposal this year.

For more information about sex offender laws or to search for sex offenders in a specific neighborhood, visit the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services at www.criminaljustice.ny.gov or the Parents for Megan’s Law group at www.parentsformeganslaw.org.

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Kevin Kelly mugshot from SCPD

Police arrested a man on Thursday evening who they say had illegal sexual contact with two teenagers several years ago.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, suspect Kevin Kelly met the victims while working as a stage manager for a local theater company. One of the alleged incidents occurred in 2007 and involved sexual contact with a 14-year-old, while the other allegedly occurred with a 15-year-old a year later.

Police arrested Kelly, a Massapequa resident, on Plant Avenue in Hauppauge Thursday, after Special Victims Section detectives investigated the case. He was charged with second-degree criminal sex act and third-degree criminal sex act.

Attorney information for Kelly was not immediately available on Friday afternoon. The defendant was scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.

Anyone who may have been a victim of inappropriate sexual contact or has information about the charges against Kelly is asked to call detectives at 631-852-6272.

District Attorney Tom Spota speaks at a press conference about Patrick O'Sullivan, who was convicted of raping a woman in Stony Brook in 2012. File photo by Michael Ruiz

The East Moriches man convicted of raping and sodomizing a woman in Stony Brook was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead, the district attorney said.

Patrick O’Sullivan has been convicted of raping a woman while she was housesitting in Stony Brook in 2012. Photo from Robert Clifford
Patrick O’Sullivan has been convicted of raping a woman while she was housesitting in Stony Brook in 2012. Photo from Robert Clifford

Patrick O’Sullivan, 23, pleaded guilty to charges of rape, criminal sexual act, burglary, sexual abuse and conspiracy in relation to the Nov. 20, 2012, incident, at a residence where his victim was house-sitting. Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said the man wore a mask and carried a loaded rifle when he entered the house through an unlocked door. He fired his weapon twice and sexually assaulted the victim after restraining her with duct tape.

While in custody at the county jail following his arrest, O’Sullivan was also charged with conspiracy after prosecutors said he tried to hire a hit man to kill the victim and another person he believed would testify against him, Spota said. The plot was foiled when the man he tried to hire notified the police.

The conspiracy charge alone landed O’Sullivan a concurrent prison term of up to 25 years, Spota said.

O’Sullivan appeared before Judge Barbara Kahn in county court Thursday morning for sentencing.

At the sentencing, he apologized to the victim, who also provided a statement. He said he hoped she could one day forgive him, a spokesman for Spota said.

In a moving testimony, the woman, who is not being identified because she is the victim of a sex crime, relived the horrific experience and the subsequent days before an arrest was made.

“For over an hour that night I was terrorized, tormented and violated. He showed me bullets and told me I shouldn’t make him use them,” she said in court Tuesday. “He left me in a house tied up, naked, violated, broken and alone. It was 10 days before an arrest was made, 10 days when I couldn’t bring myself to walk outside my house. It was eight months before I could return to work.”

The victim called her attacker a sociopath who made the conscious decision to commit “purely evil acts” of violence against her and said the memories of her attack will always be with her.

“There aren’t words to accurately describe the sheer panic, terror and fear when someone walks into a room and they are dressed in all black, wearing a ski mask and pointing a rifle directly at your head,” she said. “It is a moment that never leaves you. It is a moment in time that changes you forever.”

O’Sullivan waived his right to appeal in February and a permanent order of protection was issued for the victim, the district attorney said.

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