Other Voices: Flurry of sexual assault claims is maddening

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021


hey are crimes that sadden, anger and disgust decent people. And their effects on their victims, some of whom have carried the scars into adulthood, are worse — in many cases devastating. That we become aware of them now, in the season of comfort and joy, demonstrates that there’s much work to be done before we can consider ours a safe and just society.

A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that a woman serving as a house mother at what was then the Children’s Home — now known as Crossnore School and Children’s Home — sexually assaulted and raped a boy for two years in the late 1960s, starting when he was 11, the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported on Thursday. It’s the eighth lawsuit filed against the Children’s Home and the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, which used to operate the Children’s Home, alleging sexual assault.

A similar lawsuit, filed Dec. 9, alleges a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy who worked as a house parent at the Children’s Home sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy while holding him at gunpoint, the Journal reported.

These lawsuits claim negligence; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud. The most recent lawsuit seeks at least $100,000 in compensatory damages and an unknown amount of punitive damages for the alleged victim, who is now about 64.

Attorneys for the Children’s Home and Western North Carolina Conference deny the allegations.

Unfortunately, such claims are not limited to one institution. Also on Monday, 39 former high school students at UNC School of the Arts filed a lawsuit alleging that they endured a culture of rampant sexual abuse and exploitation and that administrators and faculty failed to do anything about it.

The lawsuit names 24 former faculty members and administrators as defendants, as well as UNCSA as an institution.

This follows a lawsuit filed in Forsyth Superior Court on Sept. 29 by seven UNCSA alumni who attended the high school in the 1980s; they’re also plaintiffs in the new lawsuit filed Monday.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the accusations follow a lawsuit filed Nov. 29 against Old Hickory Council of Boy Scouts of America Inc., as well as several other lawsuits against former Scout leaders, alleging multiple sexual assaults.

That’s just a small part of the flurry of lawsuits filed against Boy Scouts of America in recent years, totaling over 82,000.

What in the world is going on?

Part of the reason these allegations are seeing light at this time is that the deadline for filing claims, extended by a state law, ends Dec. 31. It’s now or never.

But we’re still left angered beyond belief at the profile these claims present — of children given into the hands of perverted adults and the likelihood that others knew, but turned away. That any of these crimes occurred represents a severe failure of oversight and accountability among some of our most treasured institutions.

These institutions have otherwise done so much good for their young wards. In many cases, they provided sustenance, education and support, giving children the wherewithal to make something of themselves and contribute to society. We’ve been proud that these institutions have been parts of our community.

So now, the fact that these abuses may have existed, almost in the light of day, can’t help but create doubt and discouragement, as well as sheer outrage. It’s nothing less than a betrayal, not only of the children who trusted them, but of every one of their supporters.

Some, like UNCSA, have exhibited a willingness to confront the problems and do whatever is possible to make amends. “Simply stated, we are horrified by the allegations of sexual abuse and are appalled by the concept that sexual abuse could happen under the guise of artistic training,” Brian Cole, UNCSA’s chancellor, said in a statement early in October. He pledged that school officials would listen to the accusers’ accounts “with openness” and to “appreciate the courage it took for our former students and alumni to share their experiences.”

All of these institutions deserve an opportunity to correct course.

But more than anything, the victims, if their allegations are proved in court, deserve justice.

At this time of year, as we remember the story of the “silent night” that brought a blessed child into the world, let’s also have a thought for the vulnerable children, here and elsewhere, who have been betrayed by those they trusted. There’s no worse crime than the theft of their youth and innocence.

— Winston-Salem Journal