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#662: Story of abuse stirs anger (fwd)


Published Tuesday, October 5, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
 Story of abuse stirs anger By YVES COLON

 Activists are demanding to know how a Haitian girl who claimed to be
sexually abused in the home where she lived fell through so many cracks.
 They want an explanation from everyone, from the Broward Department of
 Children and Families to the Pembroke Pines Police Department. ``Every
way you look at it, there is evidence that everybody failed that
child,'' said Marleine Bastien of Haitian Women of Miami, one of several
groups that called a news conference Monday to highlight the issue.
``Why didn't they take action sooner? Why did it take so long for
someone to notice the girl? It scares us that there might be other girls
in this same situation.''Jean-Robert Lafortune of the Grassroots
Coalition said social service agencies and the police may not have been
equipped to handle the girl's case. Bastien and the others have named
the 12 year-old girl Hope. They say her parents likely placed her as a
restavec -- Creole for a child who works in a home in exchange for room
and board -- because they were hoping she would have a better life with
the Pompee family in Broward County.


 Last week, though, police obtained a warrant for the arrest of Willy
Pompee, 20, for allegedly abusing the girl during the past three years.
She told police Pompee would run through the house naked, visit her bed
at night and threaten to send her back to Haiti if she called
authorities. Pompee and other members of his family are believed to have
fled to Haiti. Friends of the girl allege they reported the abuse on
three occasions over three weeks but Pembroke Pines Police and
Department of Children and Families investigators failed to take
immediate action because they thought the child had made it up.

 ``We need to have a system in place so that we can prevent this from
happening again,'' said Gepsie Metellus, an aide to Metro-Dade
Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. ``She deserves better.''
 Lynette Beal of the Broward Department of Children and Families said
her agency was investigating the case. Since the case broke out, there
has been an outpouring of calls from the Haitian community, and they
plan to use that information to improve procedures and practices. Part
of that information will be used in their investigation of the process,
she said.


 Beal stressed, however, that anyone suspecting sexual abuse in a home
should call 1-800-96-ABUSE, the official registry that logs and tracks
those reports. The activists say they want to find a safe home for the
girl. They also hope her case will bring to light what they call a
``shameful practice'' in the Haitian community. ``It's child slavery in
modern times,'' Metellus said. ``We must not remain quiet and turn a
blind eye to this.'' They say Hope's case is not an isolated incident in
Miami's community. Lafortune called it an ``epidemic problem'' among
Haitians in Haiti and in this country. Leonie Hermantin of the Haitian
American Foundation said her staff has investigated three cases of girls
who complain about ``excessive work'' in their homes. ``In those cases
we talked to the parents and we found that the child was right,''
 she said. ``They were doing excessive chores and their homework was not
being supervised as well as it should be.'' None of those cases
warranted notifying authorities, she said.