Protesters gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland

Protesters gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland

Teen Immigrants in Washington Programs Claim Sexual Assault and Rape

Police reports from federally-funded facilities in Renton and Fife call the minors’ safety into question.

On March 2, 2017, a 16-year-old Honduran boy residing at MercyFirst — a home for immigrant youth in Long Island, New York — told his counselor about an unwanted sexual encounter he’d had with another resident at a nonprofit facility in Washington state.

He told the MercyFirst employee that his previous roommate at Renton’s Friends of Youth had raped him during the overnight shift, according to a significant incident report sent to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)—the division that oversees the unaccompanied minors program.

Renton police redacted the victim’s name from reports that were received through a public-records request, and the statement did not specify when the alleged incident occurred.

The boy said he allowed the nonconsexual sex to happen because “he just wanted this resident to leave him alone,” MercyFirst staff wrote in the incident report sent to ORR later that day. The boy had never told anyone before because he felt too embarrassed to discuss the incident.

The case report from the Renton Police Department and law enforcement in other jurisdictions throughout the state reveal claims of neglect at ORR-funded facilities that house immigrant youth in Washington. On Sept. 12, Seattle Weekly published a report that provided a glimpse into the conditions at three federally funded nonprofit facilities in Washington as gleaned from more than 250 pages of police reports and call logs dating back to Jan. 1, 2017.

Upon learning about the alleged rape at Friends of Youth, a New York clinician called Washington authorities, and MercyFirst staff filed a report with ORR the day they were informed of the incident. New York’s Nassau County Police Department also began an investigation after they were contacted by the Renton Police Department, although Washington law enforcement closed the case in May 2017 when the alleged victim told a New York detective that he didn’t want to do anything about the incident.

Prior to the release of the documents last week, Friends of Youth President and CEO Terry Pottmeyer told Seattle Weekly that no allegations of rape had occurred at their facility. Instead, she noted that care providers are obligated to file incident reports when a minor shares abuse that happened outside of the facility or in their country of origin.

In a follow-up email on Sept. 15, Pottmeyer wrote that the Division of Licensed Resources, a division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services that evaluates the safety of foster homes, had contacted the facility after the allegation was made last year. The state’s licensing department had 90 days after the allegation was made to ensure proper supervision in the program, which it did, Pottmeyer wrote.

“Our program has a zero tolerance policy for any touching between residents, and we remind residents to report any/all incidents regarding inappropriate behavior/boundaries to staff in the moment. Residents who allege an incident with another resident are kept separated,” Pottmeyer wrote, adding that the facility practices strong protocols to ensure the safety of minors in their programs.

She noted that the 1-to-4 ratio of staff to residents ensures that the minors don’t move around the program unsupervised. The doors of shared bedrooms remain open and minors are checked on every 10 or 30 minutes by staff. “We discuss appropriate boundaries with youth, we remind them often about how to respond, how to report and our zero tolerance policy,” Pottmeyer wrote.

In addition to the Renton case, Seattle Weekly received a report from the Fife Police Department detailing another sexual assault allegation that allegedly occurred to a minor at the Selma R. Carson Home in 2016. According to the police report, a boy had told his therapist during a Dec. 1, 2016 session, that another resident had thrusted his pelvis into the alleged victim’s buttocks while he was bent over to tie his shoe in the recreation area near the pool table. The alleged victim told his therapist that the incident had occurred about a week beforehand, although he couldn’t remember the exact time and date. Fife police who responded later that day said the alleged subject claimed he had accidentally bumped into the other resident.

That same alleged victim had escaped from another facility that houses unaccompanied minors in Seattle about a year later. A February 2017 Seattle Police Department report relating to the nonprofit Casa de los Amigos showed that a 17-year-old Honduran had fled by jumping out of a window. A police report log two months later showed that the missing subject was listed as a possible victim in the alleged unlawful incident in Fife.

As of press time for this story, a Selma R. Carson Home spokesperson had not responded to repeated requests for comment.

mhellmann@seattleweekly.com

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