Thursday, October 25, 2007

"People are Protecting People Who Aren't Worth Protecting."

BERWYN, Ill. - They've learned to watch their older daughter for any sign that something's wrong.

She cuts her long, blond hair and dyes it jet black. And they worry. Her father picks up a book she's been reading, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, and skims it for clues.

He notices a highlighted passage: "You forget some things, don't you," it reads. "Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget."

Her parents can relate. There's a lot they'd like to forget, too - especially since the day nearly three years ago when their then 15-year-old daughter told them her elementary school band teacher had molested her and other girls.

The teacher, Robert Sperlik Jr., pleaded guilty last year to sexual abuse and kidnapping of more than 20 girls, some as young as 9. Among other things, he told prosecutors that he put rags in the girls' mouths, taped them shut and also bound their hands and feet with duct tape and rope for his own sexual stimulation. According to court documents, he rubbed their inner thighs and shoulders and forced them to sit, while bound, in closets and school storage rooms. At least one girl told prosecutors that when Sperlik stood behind her, she could feel his erect penis on her back.

He pretended it was a game, gave the girls candy and told them not to tell.
And for a long time, none of them did.

A seven-month Associated Press investigation found stories like these are all too common. AP reporters in every state and the District of Columbia identified 2,570 teachers who were punished for sexual misconduct from 2001 to 2005 alone, for actions that ranged from fondling to viewing child pornography to rape.

Though experts who deal with sexual abuse say victims tell the truth more often than not, the ordeal is often worsened when the community around them is drawn in, and people take sides. Often, victims and their families face uncooperative administrators, disbelieving neighbors and an agonizing legal journey.

"It's a silent epidemic is what it is," the girl's father says. "People are protecting people who aren't worth protecting a technician and a stay-at-home mom, spoke on the condition that they and their daughter not be identified, so she can try to move on from the nightmare that began in the late 1990s.
That's what Clara's family wished to do to! Move on from the nightamre that begin August 20, 2004

"I thought my children were safest in school," the girl's mother says. She shakes her head. ...."I don't trust anybody now."

"It's important to look at what the school failed to do," says Mark Loevy-Reyes, a Chicago attorney who represents some of the families, including the one profiled in this story. He claims that Sperlik's behavior came to the attention of school officials on various occasions.

"I think it's easy for school districts to turn a blind eye to it, unless they know they can be held accountable."

Her mother explained that it wasn't appropriate. And when the younger daughter protested the lecture, her older sister had to say something.
"You know what, you need to listen to Mom because of what happened to me with that weirdo band teacher," the elder daughter said, opening the door to her long-kept secret.

It was the first time her mother heard anything about duct tape.
"What did you say? What do you mean? How did he tape you?" her stunned mother asked, grabbing a kitchen chair and cellophane tape so her daughter could show her.

Her daughter started sobbing and the mother stopped, realizing how much the questions were upsetting her. "This is not your fault," her mom said, tears streaming down her face, too. "I never knew. I didn't know."

When the girl's father came home and heard the story, he immediately went to the police, even though it was late.

Their daughter gave police the names of the two other girls, whom police interviewed separately. Eventually, other young women came forward, some saying that they hadn't realized what Sperlik was doing was sexual until they were older.

After he accepted a 20-year prison sentence in a plea deal, she said Sperlik wrote a letter to some of his older, former students - a few of whom visited him behind bars.

Sperlik told them he still did not think he was guilty, Nafziger said. But he apologized to them.

"He's obviously disturbed. Now I could see that these weren't innocent (duct) taping things. I could see that he was getting sexual gratification out of that, which is terrible and should not have been allowed," she says.
"But I don't know. It left us all feeling really weird."

"I just can't take it anymore," she wrote in a note to her parents.
After she came home, they found a counselor who specializes in sexual abuse.

It's been helping, they say. And lately, their daughter has been more angry than depressed, showing some fight.

"Our kids were like babies still. That's what makes it so hard because they were so innocent," he says. He rubs his face, as his eyes well up.
"All these kids - I feel sorry for all of them, not just my own.
"We're not the only ones suffering in this. There's a lot of people suffering in this."

No one should have to suffer from abuse, according to experts the laws on elder abuse are 25 years behind the laws in place to protect our children, even then people's family whose children have been abused feel the law is protecting people that it should not be protecting, and we can all agree on that.

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