Abuse Survivors Convention Combines Frustration, Optimism for Future

Mike Aguilera, a member of U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff's staff, speaks to the convention. Max Schwartz
Mike Aguilera, a member of U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff's staff, speaks to the convention.

Max Schwartz

Mike Aguilera, a member of U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff’s staff, speaks to the convention.

LOS ANGELES — People who were abused as children while in institutional facilities feel some optimism about new California legislation, they said at their annual convention.

“We have a lot going on, a lot to be thankful for,” said Jodi Hobbs, president of Survivors of Institutional Abuse.

California state Sen. Ricardo Lara has introduced legislation that would further regulate these facilities, and national legislation is in the works. The facilities include wilderness camps, boarding schools that provide institutional care and behavior modification, inpatient psychiatric facilities and drug rehabilitation facilities.

Both SIA and the Los Angeles LGBT Center support the state bill. It is scheduled to be heard by the state Senate Committee on Human Services on April 28.

“There is a significant LGBT component to this, which made us even more interested in being involved and taking action,” said Aaron Fox, director of state health, equity and policy for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. It’s an “industry that has gone unregulated that is both neglecting and abusing children in our community [LGBT] and children in many other communities as well.”

Los-Angeles-logo-02-771x790SIA is for people who suffered any kind of abuse — mental, physical and sexual — as children while in such facilities. The annual convention, held Friday through Sunday this year, brought together survivors of abuse, advocates and family members.

Despite the optimism, participants shed tears and voiced their anger over the lack of progress and the fact that abuse still takes place. Some said they feared the legislation may not go far enough.

One person asked, “If Bob has a facility here, and Bob gets busted, so Bob goes to Bill. Bill opens another facility, but Bob is still working at said facility. Is there going to be like an offenders list where if Bill employs Bob, he won’t be able to open his facility? Is everybody in the treatment center supposed to be registered?”

Fox said the state legislation would “create a new category of institutions that the Department of Social Services has to license, monitor and exert oversight” on. New regulations would protect youths’ rights, such as privacy and getting proper medical care, he said.

Several audience members said children in these facilities can’t perform basic tasks without getting permission, don’t get proper care when they’re hurt, can’t speak freely to their parents or guardians while in the facility and can’t report abuse.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., plans to introduce similar national legislation that provides minimum health and safety standards and monitoring in these residential facilities.

Schiff staff member Mike Aguilera said the office is “going to work with SIA, and the LA LGBT Center and Mental Health America to make it stronger.” He added, “This is about a wide range of institutional abuse that has a very common theme of vile involved.”

Facilities affiliated with religious organizations are exempt from providing licensed therapists, attorney Paul Morantz told the audience. He specializes in rescuing children from abusive cults and litigating against therapists and self-help groups that victimize their clients.

However, “if they provide institutional care, it would not be exempted from licensing,” he said.

The portion of the convention when victims and relatives of victims shared their experiences was off the record to ensure the room was a “safe space.”

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