Citadel deals with fallout from sex abuse claim

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2011 10:39 AM
Citadel deals with fallout from sex abuse claim

At The Citadel, a storied bastion of Southern heritage, a barracks plaque enshrines a quote from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: "Duty is the sublimest word in the English language."

Now the state military college is doing some very public soul searching over whether the school indeed did its duty by nine young boys in the Charleston area who say they were abused by a man who once was a counselor at the school's summer camp.

As authorities prepare to prosecute ex-counselor Louis ReVille for crimes allegedly committed after he left the school, the Citadel's president has acknowledged that the college should have contacted police in 2007 when a former camper told Citadel officials he had been abused by ReVille five years earlier. Instead, the college conducted its own internal investigation _ which a school attorney hoped at the time would prevent a criminal investigation or a lawsuit, according to emails _ but did not tell police.

The college has hired an outside firm to review how it handled the complaint and has also asked state Attorney General Alan Wilson to appoint a special counsel to investigate how the accusation was handled.

"At the time we took what we thought were the necessary steps. It's now clear we should have done more," the Citadel's president, retired Lt. Gen. John Rosa, said last week.

The school's response to the abuse allegation "is unfortunately pretty typical," said Ron Hughes, a psychologist and social worker who is president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

He said whether it be Penn State, where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly assaulted children over the span of 15 years, or the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, many organizations think they can avoid publicity and conduct internal investigations of a complicated issue. That's always a mistake, he said, adding that attorneys or administrators are just not equipped to investigate sex abuse allegations.

He said they have a bias toward believing and supporting their own staff. In addition, organizations tend to underestimate the psychological sophistication of sex offenders and overestimate the ability of attorneys or other staffers to conduct complex child abuse investigations.

ReVille, 32, a Citadel graduate, is charged with molesting nine youngsters when he was a teacher and coach in Charleston area schools, recreation programs and churches after leaving the Citadel. He was arrested in October and authorities say additional charges are expected.

When news of the arrest broke, The Citadel did not release information about ReVille's time as a counselor. But then there was an about-face at the college whose cadets live by the code that a cadet doesn't lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.

They later acknowledged that ReVille reportedly lured campers into his room with Chinese food and pizza where he showed pornographic videos and the counselor and campers masturbated together.

That allegation came the year after the college closed its summer camp, which once hosted as many as 500 children a year.

The camp was closed after the Citadel reached a $3.8 million settlement with five campers who alleged they had been sexually abused by Marine Capt. Michael Arpaio, a counselor between 1995 and 2001. Arpaio pleaded guilty to multiple charges in 2003 following a military court-martial and served 15 months at the Charleston Naval Brig.

Rosa said the 2007 accuser and his family stressed the importance of privacy, that ReVille was an award-winning cadet and denied the allegation.

"When the family did not pursue the matter, we did not either," Rosa said. "We should have."

Instead the college, which famously fought for years in the 1990s to keep women out of its then all-male Corps of Cadets, had its own attorney do an internal investigation, according to documents released last month.

"I am hopeful that, by conducting an investigation on behalf of the school, no `formal' investigation _ criminal or civil _ will occur," said a May 8, 2007, e-mail from Mark Brandenburg, the college's general counsel. "Of course, I cannot guarantee that, as I have no control over what the complainant does." The college has not made Brandenburg available for interviews.

Hughes, the psychologist and abuse expert, said that when an institution tries investigating itself in a case like this, "There's a naivete about their capacity to handle and a lack of understanding of the dynamics of that kind of abuse. The expectation is if you confront the person and do it behind the scenes you protect the organization," he said.

"It might be they can stop the abuse of the particular child who brings the complaint but in the dynamics of pedophilia, it's the other 20 victims in the future that need protecting."

Pedophiles can be sophisticated and manipulative and can easily "deceive the children, the parents and the institution," Hughes said. "Dissembling is a basic part of how they do their activity."

ReVille is in jail with bond set at $1.4 million. His attorney said at a bond hearing that his client is "extremely remorseful" for the pain he has caused, denied the 2007 allegation.

The 2007 victim is the son of a Citadel graduate, and did not go to the police. In a redacted deposition, the victim said he didn't want any trouble for The Citadel but that the incident had "put him in a hole" and added, "I do expect some sort of compensation."

The request for compensation doesn't mean the allegation is false, said Christine James-Brown, the president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America.

"That does not in any way negate the need for us to respond to any type of suspicion," she said. "There are hundreds of other children who have been compromised and are not looking for compensation."

She said that each year in the United States there are about 70,000 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse with thousands more unreported.