Law Office of Bruce A. Young

Institutional Sexual Abuse 

Last Updated: 5:00 AM, August 5, 2007
Posted: 5:00 AM, August 5, 2007
Three workers at an acclaimed residential treatment center for troubled teens - with access to the psychiatric files of vulnerable patients - repeatedly raped young girls over the course of at least two years, prosecutors allege.
The indictments refer to four victims, but one source says they could be just the tip of a sickening iceberg.
"You've got these guys preying on young girls," said retired NYPD Detective John Savino, who worked on the case. "I think there are other victims and other people involved in criminality."
The charges have rocked the high-profile August Aichhorn Center for Adolescent Residential Care at 23 W. 106th St. in Manhattan, which got $5.6 million in public funding last year and has been widely praised as a model institution.

The center, with 32 beds, takes in some of the most disturbed youths in the city - mentally ill and seriously delinquent adolescents as young as 12, many from broken homes and guilty of crimes.
"We get the youngsters nobody else can handle," Michael Pawel, a psychiatrist and the center's director, told New York magazine in 1999 when it named Pawel one of the city's best doctors.
But charges brought by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in May tell a darker story, alleging that the three staff members repeatedly had sex with four different teenagers starting in July 2005.
Milton Venable, 46, was hit with two counts of third-degree rape after he allegedly had intercourse with two youths, one of them 16 years old, and with one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
Phree Noel, 32, and Edward Tapia, 26, were each charged with one count of rape and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
In each case, according to the charges, the sex occurred at the center itself.
Savino described a loosely monitored environment where Venable and Tapia - "glorified security guards," he said - had access to the victims' psychological records and targeted them because they were particularly vulnerable.
And he said there could be more victims.
"There was mention of at least two other girls," he said.
Lawyer Bruce Young, who sued the center last year on behalf of a former patient over a fistfight, said, "There's a lack of oversight and supervision."
All three defendants have denied the charges and are free on bail. None could be reached for comment.
A woman who identified herself as Noel's mother blamed the alleged victim.
"He would never do this to her," said the woman, who would not give her name, at 733 Amsterdam Ave., Noel's home address.
The facility, which opened in 1991 in a six-floor brownstone, has four living units - three with eight single bedrooms and one with four doubles, its Web site says.
It includes school, recreational, clinical, administrative and support space and has about 86 full-time staffers, 46 of them child-care workers, the site says. The clinical staff includes therapists and teachers.
The center was described by New York magazine as "part hospital, part jail . . . and feels more like a college dorm than like a locked-down psych ward."
The kids' rooms are "decorated with the covers of hip-hop magazines and movie posters, and the relaxed posture of the erstwhile menaces as they do their homework together in the hallways."
The center gets grants from the state Office of Mental Health and other agencies.
"Pawel's commitment to young people is outstanding," Susan Thaler, an office official, told New York. "He's really giving them a second chance."
In 2001, then-Gov. George Pataki wrote a letter to the center, saying, "Through the committed work of community-based organizations like yours, we will continue to advance the well-being of young adults in your community and the entire state."
One former staff member said she wouldn't be surprised if the rape charges were true.
"These kids are really vulnerable - they trust you. Some have been sexually abused by parents or relatives," she said.
"If they were raped, this is bad news. Those guys should go to jail."
Additional reporting by Hasani Gittens, Eric Lenkowitz and Jana Winter

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The Law Office of Bruce A Young has exposed the private shame of institutional sexual abuse over many years
Thursday, March 7 1996, 12:00 AM
A Queens man has filed a $10 million lawsuit alleging that the city's child welfare agency let his children suffer in abusive foster homes for three years as he searched for them in vain. The father, identified in court papers only as Hardaway H., says he was never notified that his children were with foster families until the city went to court to terminate his parental rights. "Their attitude is to hell with the father, the father means nothing," he told the Daily News yesterday. Advocates for children have long complained that child welfare authorities rarely meet their legal obligation to seek fathers of children placed in foster homes. The class action lawsuit filed in Manhattan this week claims to represent other fathers in similar situations. Gerald Harris, chief counsel for the Administration for Children's Services, said he had not seen the case and refused to comment. Court papers describe a saga that began in 1988, when Hardaway H.

's marriage disintegrated. After Tammy, his wife of seven years, fled with their two children, the plaintiff said, he fell apart, succumbing to depression and alcoholism. But after completing a rehab program, he began searching for his children hiring a private detective and enlisting the help of a retired cop friend. A limousine driver, Hardaway H. says he spent days driving around searching for his son and daughter. "You find yourself standing at a subway stop, hoping to see your children," he told The News. "Can you imagine just standing there in the rain?

" Unknown to him, a city caseworker had filed a petition in July 1991 seeking to remove the children Dan, then 7, and Dawn, then 8 from Tammy H.'s custody, according to court papers. The children said their mother had sexually abused them, even forcing them to commit sexual acts with one another, according to court papers and Hardaway H.'s attorney, Bruce Young. The kids then spent 31/2 years in separate foster families where, court papers allege, both were beaten and Dawn was sexually molested. Dan lives with his father again, but Dawn has psychological problems that have hindered his efforts to regain custody of her, Young said. Before notifying Hardaway H. for the first time by registered mail in July 1994, city officials made 33 Family Court appearances, the suit alleges. "They made decisions about my children that probably destroyed my family," he told The News. "If they only had an idea of the pain they cause.

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