PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A local mother claims her child was sexually assaulted while in a Department of Children, Youth and Families residential treatment facility, but she said the case never made it to court because her son was too traumatized to testify, Target 12 has learned.
The alleged incident happened in 2012, and according to Rhode Island State Police the suspect was also a juvenile and lived at the facility. The claim did not surface until 2013, and state police were ready to move forward last August, but the case stalled.
“The allegation was investigated by the Major Crimes Unit,” said Lt. Colonel Todd Catlow. “There was little evidence other than the victim’s statement and the victim was unwilling to testify.”
He wants to try to forget it. But it’s very difficult to forget.”
Target 12 is not revealing the mother’s identity to protect the identity of the child, who is now 14 years old and still in state custody. She said she lost custody of him in May of 2010. A DCYF document that she provided to Target 12 stated there was a finding of “Excessive/Inappropriate Discipline after bruises were found on her son.” We checked the state criminal database, which does not include her name for any crimes.
DCYF will not comment about this or any specific custody battle, but told us their goal in every case is to first protect the child, but also to reunite families when possible. The mother claims a letter from one of the residential facilities where her child lived vindicates her. It states the child “recently disclosed that he has lied to DCYF regarding claims against his mother.”
As she was fighting to get her son back with dozens of days in family court, she heard the shock of her life. A counselor at a different residential facility said her son claimed he was sexually assaulted.
“Another resident sexually assaulted him in a bathroom,” the mother said. “I broke down. Who wants to hear that happened to their child in DCYF care?”
A spokesperson for the residential facility would not comment about the incident. In a statement to Target 12, a DCYF spokesperson said the department “takes all allegations of physical and sexual abuse very seriously.”
“In this case, the matter was thoroughly investigated,” DCYF Chief of Staff Joanne Lehrer said. “The department concluded there was insufficient information available to substantiate the allegation.”
But state police did not come to the same conclusion. Lt. Colonel Catlow told Target 12 detectives began investigating the incident in 2013, and last August in a voice mail to the mother, a state police detective said the state was ready to move forward.
“We discussed the case and it looks like they want to move ahead and pursue charges,” the detective said.
But about that time, the child decided he could not face the suspect in court.
“It’s a complete nightmare that’s been going on for four and a half years,” his mother said.
The child’s grandfather is a retired police officer, frustrated that the suspect was never prosecuted but he knows his grandson was not capable of facing the accused in court.
‘You can’t put this kid on a stand in a courtroom full of people,” he said. “It would do him a great deal of harm. He just doesn’t want to keep recalling this. He wants to try to forget it. But it’s very difficult to forget.”Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau