Blog : Michigan

Family Says 5 Yr. Old Girl was Sexually Assaulted at Plymouth, MI Church During Sunday School

On January 3rd, the family of Jane Doe, a minor, filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court in Wayne County, MI against The First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth and two of its employees, seeking accountability and justice for sexual abuse that was perpetrated by a third-party adult male against five-year-old Jane Doe during Sunday School at the Church.

On Palm Sunday 2017, Jane Doe’s parents entrusted Jane’s safety and well-being to the Church and its employees during Sunday School. Despite representations and assurances to the Doe family that Jane would be properly supervised at all times, two Church employees responsible for the Sunday School class allowed her to leave the classroom alone and unsupervised. In the 20 minutes that Jane was missing from the classroom, her absence unnoticed by Sunday School teachers, an adult man took Jane into the bathroom and sexually assaulted her. Even though the Does reported the abuse to the Church the next day, the Church failed to notify other parents that a child had been sexually abused on Church premises, or that the police were investigating, for nearly a month. During that time, other families continued to leave their children in the Church’s care, unaware of the unresolved danger.

The Does’ lawsuit alleges that the Church allowed anyone who entered the Church unfettered access to Sunday School children, understaffed its Sunday School program, and failed to properly train or supervise its employees. Because of the Church’s failure to implement the most basic safety measures to protect, or even record who was allowed access to, children in the Sunday School program, law enforcement—despite conducting a lengthy investigation that included DNA evidence—has been unable to identify the man who assaulted Jane Doe, and the perpetrator remains at large, continuing to pose a risk to children in the community.

The Doe family, represented by The Fierberg National Law Group attorney, Monica Beck, brings this lawsuit to seek justice for Jane, to incite change in the Church’s policies, practices, and attitudes toward the safety of children entrusted to its care, and to ensure that no other child or family suffer as they have. “Our churches must be the safest communities for children and the least safe for those who hurt them. When the church fails to protect and advocate for the little ones in our midst, it fails to reflect the very heart of Jesus,” said Boz Tchividjian, a consulting attorney specializing in issues related to child abuse and protection in church communities. By speaking out, the Doe family hopes to end the silence around child sexual abuse, raise awareness about a culture that minimizes and covers up abuse occurring within religious institutions, and hold the Church and its leadership accountable for events that have forever changed their lives.

See the Local News Coverage Here:  WJBK-TV 2 FOX DetroitWDIV-TV 4 NBC Detroit, and WXYZ-TV 7 ABC Detroit

 

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CHRISTINA MAIRE & HIS GROUP POSED AS TEENAGE BOYS TO MANIPULATE TEENAGE GIRLS TO DO SEXUAL ACTS ONLINE

Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press

December 6, 2018

They were dubbed the “Bored Group” —  nine online predators who targeted vulnerable teenage girls on the Internet, manipulating them into performing sex acts online and even convincing some to cut themselves while they watched.

For five years, they pretended to be teenage boys.

But on Wednesday, the grown men who lurked behind the computer screens came face to face with some of their victims in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where the still-traumatized victims persuaded a judge to lock the men up for decades for robbing their innocence and trust, and for destroying their childhoods.

“Thinking back to those days causes me to cry myself to sleep, wondering when the monsters will stop haunting me,” one victim told the judge.

Christian Maire

The accused ringleader is Christian Maire, a 40-year-old married father of two from New York who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for running an online porn operation that sexually exploited more than 100 girls nationwide, including an Oakland County girl who helped the FBI bust the scheme in 2017.

The operation started in 2012, though arrests did not occur for another five years. Indictments followed.

According to court records, here is how the ‘Bored Group’s’ enterprise worked:

Each member had a role. The “hunters” sought out girls on social media sites and lured them to the un-monitored chat rooms. Once there, the “talkers” took over, convincing girls to undress and engage in sexual activity by talking to them about a variety of subjects, like school, family, sports and sex. The “loopers” were used to entice the girls by playing previously recorded videos of teen boys performing sex acts in a chatroom. The “loopers”  pretended to be the teenage boys in the video, which they used to convince the girls to do the same things.

The “Bored Group” even had a plan for vulnerable victims. If a girl was suicidal or revealed that she was cutting herself, the group held a “trust-building session”  that involved sensitive chats about life and the girl’s worth. The goal was to win the girl’s trust for one reason: “so that she would eventually undress and/or masturbate on a web camera,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

The group’s victims ranged in ages 10-17. They include a girl who was coerced into having sex with her dog, another who was encouraged to masturbate with a banana, and an elite ballet dancer who battled loneliness and anxiety and was manipulated into making more than 60 videos of herself engaged in sexual activity.

The case was prosecuted in Detroit, where Maire on Wednesday pleaded with the judge through tears for a chance to rehabilitate himself.

“I’m really so ashamed of myself and all the harm I’ve caused my victims,” Maire told U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy, sobbing at times. “I never knew I could sink this low …  but I am sick. Pornography led me down a very dark road. If I was here as a parent instead of a defendant, I would be devastated.”

Maire had three supporters speak on his behalf in court Wednesday: a Greek Orthodox priest who said he took Maire’s confession and that he appeared genuinely remorseful; a family friend who is a judge in Georgia, and his father, who apologized to the victims.

“My heart goes out to the victims for the trauma my son has caused … I am truly appalled by his actions,” said the father, who described his son as a loving and doting father who used his college education to grow a fledgling company.

“We’re still struggling to understand what he did,” the father said. “He’s an addict battling an addiction. With proper counseling, he can leave prison a better man … I still love him.”

As Maire’s supporters asked for leniency, a victim in the courtroom whispered to a friend: “But they asked girls to cut themselves.”

‘I was blackmailed’

Several parents and victims attended the sentencing. Some spoke while others sat quietly as the victims told their gut-wrenching stories.

“I am a 20-year-old girl standing here today, facing the monsters that destroyed my childhood due to child exploitation,” said a New Orleans woman, who was lured into the scheme when she was 16. “The internet was my escape from depression that I didn’t know I had at the time.”

Eventually, she started making videos and joined chat rooms, where she met the predators who were pretending to be teen boys.

“I enjoyed having ‘friends’ to talk to every day. They were always there no matter what time of day,” she told the judge.

But then came the blackmail. After flirting in the chat rooms and cultivating an online friendship, one of the men recorded her on video.

“From then on, I was blackmailed into doing things I didn’t want to do. They would threaten to come to my house and hurt my family and I. They even named everyone in my house, so I knew that these threats were serious,” she said. “They would tell me to take off my clothes and touch myself in sexual ways. So, I would try to accommodate their desires because I was scared.”

She added: “Every time I would do so, they would record me and blackmail me over and over again, which turned into an intimidating and vicious cycle.”

Then came the suicide attempts.

“I started hurting myself and I was in and out of the hospital for self-harm and attempted suicide,” she said. “I know they knew I was hurting because they would watch me cry and some would even ask me to self-harm while they watched.”

To this day, the Louisiana woman said, she can’t use a computer. “The tragic pain this has caused me still eats my soul … After all those years of hurt, I struggle with self-love, anxiety, and depression.”

‘Get them help’

Another victim – a 14-year-old girl who was 10 when the men exploited her online – told the judge she “regretted 100 percent” going into the chat room. But at the time, she was young, bullied and teased at school, and she longed for friends.

“I was manipulated … they told me I was special and that they loved me,” the girl recalled. “I thought I was special but I was just pleasing these sick people … I want this to be over with. I’m tired.”

The 14-year-old’s mother also spoke in court, saying her daughter has had night terrors almost every night and struggles with normal activities and school because of the predators.

Then she briefly looked up at the eight defendants sitting side by side in court: half of them hung their heads; the others had blank expressions.

“I look at these guys here —  not one of them looks like they care. They got what they wanted,” the mother said, adding her daughter “just wants a normal life.”

The mother urged the judge to give her daughter and the other victims justice, though she was merciful in her request.

“Get them help,” she said of the defendants. “They need help — as much, if not more than my daughter.”

Hundreds of victims

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Maire, calling him a chronic liar and manipulator who masterminded an “egregious crime syndicate” that sexually exploited and psychologically scarred preteen and teenage girls.

For reasons unknown, the group typically included the word “bored” in the title of their chatrooms, such as justsoboared, borednstuff, and boredascanbe — hence the name “Bored Group.”

“They hunted girls. They lied to girls. They manipulated girls … And they did so repeatedly for years, victimizing more than 100 girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy has argued in court documents, stressing Maire, the “educated, worldly leader of the group, orchestrated it all.”

In court Wednesday, Mulcahy scoffed at Maire’s claims that he quit the child pornography ring out of shame six months before his 2017 arrest.

“It wasn’t shame and remorse, it was the fear of getting caught,” Mulcahy said, alleging Maire had been tipped off by one of his cohorts that the FBI was onto them.

According to prosecutors, Maire ran the scheme with the help of accomplices from across the country who preyed on vulnerable girls who are still struggling to cope.

“Almost all if not all of the minor victims in this case are depressed or in therapy, and several have suicidal intentions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney April Russo stated in court documents. “Some of them have attempted suicide.”

In the end, it was an Oakland County victim who helped the FBI piece the case together, triggering arrests and charges.

According to court records, the now 17-year-old Oakland County girl was tricked into posing nude on a webcam for the “Bored Group.” Among those who sexually exploited her was Maire, who had numerous explicit conversations with the girl when she was 14, records show.

The FBI interviewed the Oakland County girl in June 2017, when she told agents that she had “consistently” been in a chat room with four to five individuals whom she believed to be teenage boys. These people, she told the agents, enticed her to show them her naked body and perform sexually explicit acts while on a webcam.

After that interview, the FBI followed an electronic trail of evidence that led them to the other suspects, including Arthur Simpatico, 47, of Mississauga, Ontario, who was sentenced to 37 years in prison on Wednesday for his role. Prosecutors described him as a “callous” predator who was considered the “best of the best” at recruiting girls in the group and used his technological skills to help the group avoid detection by law enforcement.

It was Simpatico, prosecutors said, who tipped off the crew about the FBI being onto them.

In court Wednesday, Simpatico said from the lectern, handcuffed and shackled in orange jail garb: “I just want to apologize to anyone I’ve hurt. That was not my intention. I can’t take it back. I hope to be a better person in the future.”

In handing down the punishments, Judge Murphy expressed concerns about the dangerous nature of the Internet and said a message needs to be sent to online predators that their actions carry a stiff penalty.

“The amount of psychological damage done to the victims is of a very serious concern,” Murphy said. “This behavior deserves an extremely serious punishment … The Internet has obviously gotten out of control.”

Sentencing will continue Thursday.

The other defendants are:

Jonathan Rodriguez, 37, of West Hollywood, California

Michal Figura, 36, of Swarthmore, Pennylvania

Odell Ortega, 37, of Virginia Gardens, Florida

Brett Sinta, 36, of Hickory, North Carolina

Caleb Young, 38, of Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Daniel Walton, 34, of Saginaw, Texas

William T. Phillips, 39, of Highland, New York

 

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Michigan State Will Pay $500 Million to Abuse Victims. What Comes Next?

Michigan State University reached a $500 Million settlement for the survivors of sexual abuse by MSU physician, Larry Nassar, but what about justice for other survivors of sexual abuse and violence?

Structures are in place at universities across the country to protect students from sexual abuse and violence. Unfortunately similar structures do not exist in the United States Olympic Committee to protect young athletes from abuse. Veteran collegiate and Olympic athlete, CEO of Champion Women, and TFNLG affiliate, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, writes on the subject for the New York Times:
May 18, 2018
On Wednesday, Michigan State University announced it had settled with 332 victims of sexual abuse by Lawrence G. Nassar, a physician who worked with the school’s gymnastics program. The settlement will pay $425 million to 332 victims, or about $1.28 million each; it will set aside an additional $75 million in a trust for any future claims of sexual abuse against Mr. Nassar.

Half a billion dollars is a landmark settlement, one that couldn’t have been achieved without the courage and vulnerability of Mr. Nassar’s hundreds of victims. And it didn’t help that the university chose a strategy of maligning the victims, accusing one of them, Rachael Denhollander, of being in it “for the money.”

Until recently, though, this sort of strategy often worked. The difference this time is both the sheer number of victims and the intersection of the Nassar case and the #MeToo movement. Understanding the Michigan State settlement within that context is critical, because it points to where things need to go next: The #MeToo/#TimesUp movement is not limited to getting victims much-needed compensation and ousting powerful and abusive men from their professional careers; it means changing the systems and cultures that breed sexual harassment and abuse in the first place.

I know the culture of collegiate and Olympic sports particularly well. I am an eight-year veteran of the United States national swimming team, a two-time Olympian and a three-time gold medalist. My 1984 Olympic coach, Mitch Ivey, was barred from the sport for sexually abusing my teammate. He never hid his sexual contacts with multiple underage swimmers; he was open about their “relationship” — common parlance in the swimming community that normalized child molestation. Despite his well-known abuse, it took 30 years before USA Swimming barred him.

However badly we think Michigan State behaved, at least the university recognized that it has a duty to protect its students from sexual abuse and violence, and it eventually acted. Structures were in place, even if it took the school too long to use them.

Not true for the United States Olympic Committee. It has known that sexual abuse is a significant risk of harm to America’s athletes, but the committee made the conscious decision to let the abuse happen without helping victims. Like Mitch Ivey, hundreds of other coaches were known risks to children.

Instead, the committee has adopted a “not my problem” approach, declaring that it is up to the individual sports to root out abuse. By taking that strategy, the committee avoids having to educate families and athletes about the risks of sexual abuse, having to train children on how to recognize appropriate boundaries and having to train its staff on how to conduct an investigation or a hearing that the parties would consider fair. Moreover, no matter how poorly it has protected athletes, the committee needn’t fear civil liability unless it employs the coach directly — a tiny number. The committee’s strategy has saved them enormous sums.

This is beginning to change. In February, in response to powerful testimony in the Nassar case by athletes like Aly Raisman, Congress passed the SafeSport Act, which imposes an obligation on the Olympic Committee and the 47 sports it oversees to protect athletes from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. It prohibits coaches and those in power over athletes from being alone together, except in an emergency. It requires everyone inside the Olympic movement to report instances of abuse. And it authorized the creation of the Center for SafeSport, an independent entity that will provide expertise to sexual abuse complaints.

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Former Boss of Larry Nassar, William Strampel, Charged

Larry Nassar’s former boss at Michigan State University used his power to sexually assault, harass, and solicit nude photos from female students, according to a criminal complaint.

William Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for his own actions as dean from 2002 to 2018, according to court documents.

The 70-year-old also faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty related to his failure to properly oversee Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who admitted to sexually abusing young girls for decades, court documents state.

The criminal complaint details statements from four female students who described disturbing instances of Strampel’s abuse of power as dean. According to the document, Strampel asked for nude photos and sexual favors, he groped women’s buttocks at official events, and demeaned the way they dressed.

The charges came as part of Michigan special prosecutor William Forsyth’s investigation into how Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, was able to abuse more than 200 young girls and women over more than two decades.

The complaint also states that Strampel improperly allowed Nassar to continue treating patients before a Title IX investigation into his sexual misconduct was complete. In addition, Strampel failed to enforce protocols set up to prevent future issues with Nassar, such as requiring him to wear gloves during examinations, the complaint states.
MSU moved in early February to revoke Strampel’s tenure. He stepped down from the dean position in December, citing health problems.

Access the full report here.

 

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Michigan State’s Unclear Title IX Program

Misinformation has led to a disconnect at Michigan State university regarding key concepts of Their Title IX programs.

Recent Title IX reports conducted by Hush Blackwell have shown MSU is lagging to create strong awareness of campus sexual assault education and prevention. Many students at the university are uninformed of their rights and available resources if they are, or have been, sexually assaulted. mLive’s Brian McVicar writes:

“Michigan State has some work ahead of it,” said Julie Miceli, a partner at Husch Blackwell who focuses on higher education. “It has certainly made some improvements. The staff that are engaged in this work did not find any of our findings … to be of surprise.”

The report is Husch Blackwell’s second examination of MSU’s policies and programs surrounding Title IX, the federal gender anti-discrimination law that covers how educational institutions receiving federal funds must respond to reports of sexual assault.

It focused on the effectiveness of sexual assault education and prevention programs, support services and resources offered on campus, and outreach efforts tied to those programs. Researchers spoke with students, faculty and staff about their awareness and knowledge of the programs.

On Tuesday afternoon, Interim President John Engler told MSU’s Faculty Senate that he’s working to address the findings.

“We’re not only trying to fix resources that are necessary, because in some cases there are resources that aren’t there, but we’re also trying to fix how we communicate and educate and inform,” he said.

In its report, Husch Blackwell says that many participants in campus discussion groups were “unaware of, or misinformed about, key concepts relating to MSU’s Title IX program.” Student participants, for example, were familiar with the definition of sexual consent, but were “unaware of resources available to survivors of sexual misconduct and to those accused of sexual misconduct.”

At another point, the report says: “Overall, a majority of discussion group participants seem to be lacking even basic awareness about other Title IX-related support services and resources provided by MSU.”

Miceli, of Husch Blackwell, said perception and awareness of university programs is important.

“Their perception I think is actually very relevant to that question about effectiveness,” she said. ‘If they are unaware of the policy, if they are unaware of the expectations of the university with respect to their own conduct and the process by which policy violations could be looked at, the training in particular would not be effective.”

Engler said the university expects to make several changes “very quickly” based upon the Hush Blackwell report, though he did not detail specifics.

Read the full article here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law hope Michigan State University and other universities across the country are able to expedite the improvement of their Title IX programs and procedures.

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Attorney: MSU’s Handling of Title IX Investigation in Nassar Case ‘Appalling’

Photo: The Athletic

A lawyer within Michigan State’s general counsel office is under fire for her role in the Larry Nassar case, particularly for the way she and the university handled a Title IX investigation.

According to court transcripts from last week’s scheduling conference in district court, attorney David Mittleman, whose firm represents more than 70 plaintiffs in the civil litigation pending against Michigan State, registered his dismay in the handling of the Title IX investigation following Amanda Thomashow’s complaint.

One experienced litigator with Title IX expertise, who is not involved in the case, raised doubts that the production of two separate reports in a Title IX investigation would satisfy the aforementioned requirements.

“That doesn’t strike me as equitable when you provide the victim and complainant with some information, but the school with other information,” attorney Monica Beck told The Athletic last week. “That strikes me as not being equitable.”

Read more on The Athletic.

Click here for more posts on Title IX.

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School Violence Law Brings Title IX Lawsuit Against Byron Center Teacher for Student Sexual Assault

School Violence Law has brought Title IX lawsuit on behalf of a Byron Center High School student who was sexually abused by her teacher (subsequently convicted and sentenced to prison for more than a decade), then brutally harassed and retaliated against by students and school staff.

Fortunately, under Title IX, applicable state and federal laws provide remedies that may help her recovery and compel Byron Center Public Schools to implement changes necessary to protect other students.byron center, title ix lawsuit

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday, July 23, in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids alleges that school officials failed to protect the student, contact authorities and investigate after learning of suspicions that math teacher Glenn Davis’ actions toward the student were predatory.

This suit claims violation of Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits gender discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. The lawsuit also claims a violation of the student’s constitutional rights, failure to report sexual abuse, a violation of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, and negligence.

The lawsuit names Byron Center Public Schools, the board of education, high school Principal Scott Joseph and Assistant Principal Brady Lake.

Check out the article on MLive.

 

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Chad Curtis sex case: Lakewood schools protected former ballplayer, not student-athletes, federal complaint says

Engaged to represent four high school girls who were sexually assaulted by former major league baseball player, Chad Curtis. This happened to some of the victims while he was purportedly giving them therapeutic massages for sports injuries at school. Curtis is currently in prison. Following the reporting of the assaults, our clients were brutally harassed and bullied at school. A Federal lawsuit alleging violations to Title IX and other legal principles is pending in Court, seeking to hold the school and its administrators responsible for, among other reasons, being deliberately indifferent and failing to prevent to their abuse.

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/02/federal_probe_sought_in_chad_c.html#incart_m-rpt-2

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Estate of Deceased College Student v. Numerous Defendants.

Represented the family of college student who died following an evening of hazing during initiation by the Knights of College Leadership at Ferris State University (Big Rapids, Michigan). CBS 48 Hours portrayed this incident in a story dealing with fraternity hazing, initiations and drinking deaths.  The fraternity pledges were directed to play a drinking game involving the “wheel of torture.”  The Client lost consciousness, and was carried to an upstairs bedroom and left unattended, despite the fact that fraternity brothers knew that he was helpless and needed to be monitored.  The Client died of alcohol poisoning, and is survived by his parents, sister and nephew.  The family obtained a substantial financial settlement.

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