Ballarat Journal: Australian Mining Town Breaks Its Silence About Grim Past of Sexual Abuse


East Ballarat “was really left over from the gold rush days,” said Maureen Hatcher, who has lived in Ballarat most of her life. “There would have been a lot of people that would have come here that were incredibly poor and never made any money but thought they would.”

Pubs have also played a major role in Ballarat life since the gold rush, say historians. And though they have dwindled in number, some residents said they have contributed to the malaise of alcoholism and depression that still lingers.

The abuse was particularly damaging because, without the basic social services prevalent today, residents of East Ballarat relied on the church for support, to serve as a bedrock for their community.

Ultimately, the priests betrayed those they were supposed to protect, say the victims.

“This community has been ravaged by the Catholic Church,” said Stephen Woods, who was abused as a child starting in the 1970s.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the dam finally broke, said Mr. Woods, whose abuse took place at St. Alipius, and later at the nearby St. Patrick’s College, a Catholic day and boarding school.

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“This community has been ravaged by the Catholic Church,” said Stephen Woods, who was abused as a child starting in the 1970s at his old school, St. Alipius, above, and later at the nearby St. Patrick’s College.

Credit
Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

He publicly revealed his abuse in 1994 and was among those who led the way for others to share their truths.

But he added that it was the Loud Fence movement, which began about three years ago, that finally gave this community a voice to speak about its dark past.

The movement began as thousands of residents and people from across Australia began hanging colorful ribbons on the fence outside St. Alipius and St. Patrick’s to show support for the victims.

Ms. Hatcher, the movement’s founder, said though ribbons had at times been stripped from the fences by parishioners, they tied people together and now served as a symbol of speaking out against abuse.

“There are more ribbons on the fence now than there was before,” said Frank Sheehan, a former state lawmaker from Ballarat.

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He Died 21 Years After Being Abused. Prosecutors Are Calling it Murder.


Beth Schmitt, who adopted Mr. Stuart in 1999 with her then-partner Lori Elei Stuart, said in an interview this week that he had led a fruitful life despite his limitations. For two decades, she watched him grow.

Mr. Stuart, she said, seemed to love music and would smile when he heard it. He grew a thin mustache that Ms. Schmitt did not like. He went to sporting events and played baseball in a league for children with disabilities; a friend would push his wheelchair around the bases.

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David Elei Stuart was adopted by Beth Schmitt and Lori Elei Stuart, left, around 1999. He enjoyed listening to music and spending time with his family. Ms. Schmitt said the years after he was adopted were a gift, because doctors did not expect him to live past age 6.

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Courtesy of Beth Schmitt

The years after Mr. Stuart’s abuse were often difficult, she said, because of recurring medical emergencies like breathing problems and bouts of pneumonia. But Ms. Schmitt said those years were also a gift, because doctors had told her he might not survive his sixth year.

“He was happy despite his challenges, despite the fact that he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk,” she said. “He would communicate to us by facial expressions and the noises he would make. He made people aware that life is very precious.”

Mr. David praised Ms. Schmitt, 44, and Ms. Stuart, 52, both psychologists in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. “They provided the best quality of life he could’ve hoped for under the circumstances,” he said.

Acknowledging the 21-year gap between the abuse and Mr. Stuart’s death, Mr. David said it was still legally possible to bring homicide charges because North Carolina has no statute of limitations on felonies. He added that it was not uncommon for a murder prosecution to follow an assault prosecution when victims die.

The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not immediately respond to a request for information about the cause of Mr. Stuart’s death.

In North Carolina, a first-degree murder conviction can result in a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Lawyers for Ms. Noffsinger and Mr. Tripp did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The district attorney’s office said they were being held at the Brunswick County Jail on $1 million bail and are scheduled to appear in Brunswick County Superior Court on June 6.

Ms. Schmitt said that as she adjusted to life without Mr. Stuart, she wanted to focus on “the good memories, not just the abuse.”

“It was a lot of work,” she said of raising him. “But I would do it all over again.”

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He Died 21 Years After Being Abused. Prosecutors Are Calling it Murder.


Beth Schmitt, who adopted Mr. Stuart in 1999 with her then-partner Lori Elei Stuart, said in an interview this week that he had led a fruitful life despite his limitations. For two decades, she watched him grow.

Mr. Stuart, she said, seemed to love music and would smile when he heard it. He grew a thin mustache that Ms. Schmitt did not like. He went to sporting events and played baseball in a league for children with disabilities; a friend would push his wheelchair around the bases.

Photo

David Elei Stuart was adopted by Beth Schmitt and Lori Elei Stuart, left, around 1999. He enjoyed listening to music and spending time with his family. Ms. Schmitt said the years after he was adopted were a gift, because doctors did not expect him to live past age 6.

Credit
Courtesy of Beth Schmitt

The years after Mr. Stuart’s abuse were often difficult, she said, because of recurring medical emergencies like breathing problems and bouts of pneumonia. But Ms. Schmitt said those years were also a gift, because doctors had told her he might not survive his sixth year.

“He was happy despite his challenges, despite the fact that he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk,” she said. “He would communicate to us by facial expressions and the noises he would make. He made people aware that life is very precious.”

Mr. David praised Ms. Schmitt, 44, and Ms. Stuart, 52, both psychologists in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. “They provided the best quality of life he could’ve hoped for under the circumstances,” he said.

Acknowledging the 21-year gap between the abuse and Mr. Stuart’s death, Mr. David said it was still legally possible to bring homicide charges because North Carolina has no statute of limitations on felonies. He added that it was not uncommon for a murder prosecution to follow an assault prosecution when victims die.

The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not immediately respond to a request for information about the cause of Mr. Stuart’s death.

In North Carolina, a first-degree murder conviction can result in a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Lawyers for Ms. Noffsinger and Mr. Tripp did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The district attorney’s office said they were being held at the Brunswick County Jail on $1 million bail and are scheduled to appear in Brunswick County Superior Court on June 6.

Ms. Schmitt said that as she adjusted to life without Mr. Stuart, she wanted to focus on “the good memories, not just the abuse.”

“It was a lot of work,” she said of raising him. “But I would do it all over again.”

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Body Found Off California Coast May Be Teenager From S.U.V. Plunge


While ocean conditions and stormy weather had frustrated search and recovery efforts, the resulting churn of water near the coast may actually have helped to reveal the body.

“It is not uncommon after a significant storm, such as the one passing through the north state currently, to bring items to the surface or wash onto the beach,” the sheriff’s office said.

In addition to the two girls, Devonte, a 15-year-old boy, is also missing. The three children found dead at the scene were: Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; and Abigail, 14.

Days earlier, child welfare workers tried to reach the Harts after reports of alleged abuse or neglect at their home in Woodland, Wash.

In 2008, Hannah, then 6 years old, told the authorities in Minnesota that Jennifer Hart had beaten her with a belt, according to a Sunday report in The Oregonian. And in a 2011 court filing, Sarah Hart admitted to spanking one of the children, adding that marks on the child’s stomach were most likely caused by being bent over the edge of a bathtub while being spanked.

Despite those and other reports stretching back about a decade, the couple evaded serious consequences, apparently benefiting from a lack of communication among the authorities across states, according to The Oregonian.

Last week, the authorities in California said that the wreck may have been intentional, citing the fact that the vehicle had stopped on a dirt pullout before accelerating 70 feet to the cliff’s edge.

“It was pure acceleration from the last brake application until it hit the bottom of the cliff,” Greg Baarts, the acting assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol’s northern division, told reporters at the time.

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Sgt. Bret Barnum and Devonte Hart at a rally in Portland, Ore., in 2014. Devonte was one of three children missing after his family’s vehicle plummeted off a cliff in California.

Credit
Johnny Huu Nguyen, via Associated Press

The Hart family was first thrust into the spotlight in 2014, thanks to a widely shared photograph of Devonte, who is black, tearfully hugging a white police officer at a protest against police violence.

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Former Dean, Boss to Convicted Gymnastics Doctor, Is Arrested


For years, officials at Michigan State largely dismissed reports that Dr. Nassar had assaulted women, even though some women said they had reported the abuse as early as the late 1990s to coaches, trainers or counselors. After facing criticism for her handling of the case, the president of the university, Lou Anna K. Simon, resigned in January.

Though the precise charges against Dr. Strampel were not immediately clear, his arrest came about six weeks after Michigan State’s interim president, John Engler, announced that he was trying to revoke Dr. Strampel’s tenure, citing allegations about “his personal conduct over a long period of time.”

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Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, who admitted that he had sexually abused scores of young women over several years, at his sentencing in January.

Credit
Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press

“William Strampel did not act with the level of professionalism we expect from individuals who hold senior leadership positions, particularly in a position that involves student and patient safety,” Mr. Engler, a former governor of Michigan, said in February. “We are sending an unmistakable message today that we will remove employees who do not treat students, faculty, staff, or anyone else in our community in an appropriate manner.”

A letter about the tenure revocation written in February by Carol Viventi, a university vice president, also mentioned “Dr. Strampel’s failure to monitor and enforce clinical practice guidelines put in place for former doctor Larry Nassar following the conclusion of a 2014 sexual harassment investigation.”

Dr. Strampel’s arrest was applauded on Monday by John C. Manly, a lawyer who represents more than 150 women who say they were abused by Dr. Nassar.

“Our clients are encouraged by the attorney general’s action today,” Mr. Manly said in a statement. “It demonstrates that he is serious about investigating the systemic misconduct at M.S.U. that led to the largest child sex abuse scandal in history, and holding the responsible parties accountable.”

The Wall Street Journal, citing interviews and university records, reported this month that Dr. Strampel had said in 2016 that he did not believe the women who accused Dr. Nassar of abusing them, and that he did not want to fire Dr. Nassar.

Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for the Michigan attorney general’s office, which is overseeing the investigation of the university, declined to provide any information about Dr. Strampel’s arrest. The sheriff of Ingham County did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment, nor did a lawyer who has been reported to represent Dr. Strampel in civil cases.

Bill Forsyth, the special prosecutor leading the investigation of Michigan State, is scheduled to give an update at noon on Tuesday in Lansing, the state capital.

Dr. Strampel, 70, previously worked in the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. When he was named dean, Ms. Simon, the university provost at the time, said she was “confident that he’s the right person to lead this college.”

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Three Billboards Call Out Sexual Abuse


Three images will rotate through each billboard. One points people to Ms. Sullivan’s website, and says, across a picture of a man with a question mark over his chest, “the truth will be revealed.” Another is a picture of Ms. Sullivan and says: “My rapist is protected by New York state law. I am not. Neither are you. Neither are your children.”

Ms. Sullivan said the original design included Mr. Sargent’s name and face, but that the company that owns the billboards would not allow her to use them, for fear of getting sued. Two billboard companies said they would not work with her at all.

The three billboards will be up for 28 days, Ms. Sullivan said, which will cost her $14,000. (She spent about another $2,000 on the website.) Once the billboards come down, Mr. Sargent’s name and photograph will appear on her website.

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When Kat Sullivan saw “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” on a plane, it inspired her to create her own series of advertising signs targeting a teacher she said sexually abused her.

Mr. Sargent did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, Emma Willard said, “We commend and support the survivors of sexual abuse who are committed to affecting change on this important issue.”

The third graphic that will rotate through the billboards says “NY Pass The Child Victims Act,” a piece of proposed legislation in Albany that would give victims until age 28 to file criminal charges and allow them to sue until age 50. It would also create a one-year “lookback” window, during which cases from any time could proceed in court. Today, the statutes of limitations in New York that govern the sexual abuse of children are among the most restrictive in the country. Most adult survivors had until they were 23 years old, at the latest, to bring a case.

Activist groups have been pushing the Child Victims Act in Albany for more than 10 years, and have made an especially aggressive effort this year, targeting specific state senators. Ms. Sullivan moved to New York City last month from her home in Florida to help lobby for the measure.

Supporters are trying to make the act part of the state budget, which is due April 1 — a tactic that would give Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who supports the bill, more leverage to negotiate with legislators. The Child Victims Act has support from the State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, but there is resistance to it in the Republican-controlled State Senate, which has blocked the bill for years. John J. Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, did not respond to questions about the legislation.

A central sticking point is the lookback window. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said on Tuesday that any legislation that included it should be rejected and called the window “toxic” for the Catholic Church. Representatives of the church have said it supports changing the statute of limitations, but fears a flurry of lawsuits and the financial hit a lookback window might deliver.

But proponents of the legislation have said that hasn’t happened in states that have enacted similar legislation, and they call the window crucial. In addition to providing victims their day in court, they said the window serves a public-safety function by flushing out suspected abusers who are still in the community.

“The lookback window will help identify abusers, many of whom still have contact with kids,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, Democrat of Manhattan, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “New York has among the worst laws in the country on child sexual abuse. We are an outlier, so this fix is a long time coming.”

The billboards strategy was used by activists in London pushing for arrests in the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people last year, who last month deployed three roving billboards to ask why there had been no arrests in the tragedy.

Ms. Sullivan said she was motivated by the frustration that Mr. Sargent has faced no major consequences.

“He is free to teach, free to coach, free to be elected onto boards,” she said. “There are no blemishes on his record.”

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