Monday, February 24, 2003
Abused Baxter students to begin receiving settlements http://www.pressherald.com/news/local/030224baxter.shtml#top
By MARK SHANAHAN, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
The memories cling to Peter Martineau like a brand. All these years later, he can't escape the abuse he suffered as a student at the Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf.
Martineau was just a child - 8, in fact - when he was forced to perform sex acts on a male teacher at the state-run school for the deaf in Falmouth. Now 48, he's endured drug addictions, eating disorders, thoughts of suicide and one disastrous relationship after another.
It is small consolation, but Martineau and dozens of other former Baxter students who were sexually and physically abused finally are being compensated for the state's failure to protect them. Twenty-one years after their allegations were substantiated, the victims are about to receive settlements.
The Baxter Compensation Authority, which is administering the $6 million victims' fund established by the Legislature, is beginning to review claims. The three-person panel - the first of its kind in the country - will hear lurid tales of beatings, rapes and terrorizing and then award the victims $25,000, $60,000 or $100,000 depending on the severity, duration and impact of the abuse.
"There's nothing about this process that doesn't make me uncomfortable," said John Shattuck, director of the Baxter Compensation Authority. "But somebody's got to do this work. . . . It is the most important job I'll ever have."
Advocates for the deaf say no amount of money can undo the terrible damage done to scores of Baxter students, but they commend lawmakers for taking at least some responsibility for what happened at the school during the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Sara Treat, a therapist who works with deaf survivors of abuse, calls the compensation amounts "better than nothing," which was the likely alternative since the statute of limitations has long since expired, making criminal prosecution impossible
"For people who have very little, sure, this might allow them to buy a car or maybe a house," Treat said. "But nobody thinks it's enough, given what happened."
Glenn Pelletier sure doesn't. Pelletier, who attended Baxter between 1957 and 1972 and was sexually and physically abused during much of that time, calls the sums "insulting."
"There are a lot of people who have had terrible, terrible troubles, who've suffered for a lifetime because of what happened," Pelletier, who lives in South China, said through an interpreter. "I am a very angry man today."
There is added anxiety because the Baxter Compensation Authority is without precedent in the United States. Indeed, it was little more than a well-intentioned idea just a year ago - the authority had $6 million, but no staff, office, telephones, computers or policies.
What's been devised is loosely based on a Canadian model - the Jericho Individual Compensation Program - created in 1993 to investigate abuse complaints at Jericho Hill School, a state-operated residential school for deaf children in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"If we didn't have that, there's no doubt it would have taken us a lot longer to get up and running here," said Shattuck, who formerly was director of the state Bureau of Rehabilitation. "There was a desire to get things going as soon as possible."
The state has known about the abuse at Baxter for more than 20 years. A report by the state Attorney General's Office in 1982 concluded that despite complaints of physical and sexual abuse from both staff and students, no one bothered to investigate.
This failure was "an inexcusable abdication of (the state's) power and duty to supervise Baxter school," wrote James Tierney, then the attorney general. "The principal consequences of this failure were to permit the harmful situation to continue unabated for several years and, because of the statute of limitations, to preclude prosecution."
The report identified two officials at the school - Robert E. Kelly, Baxter's principal, and Joseph P. Youngs, the superintendent - as the primary abusers. The report, which was based on more than 150 interviews with students, staff and parents, detailed numerous sexual encounters Kelly had with at least three male students that included bondage, strip poker and nude photography.
In the case of Youngs, the report found the superintendent had punched students in the face, slammed a boy's head against a wall and stabbed at least one student with a pen hard enough to draw blood.
Both men resigned before the report was released. Youngs died in 1990. Kelly, now in his 70s, lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and still receives a monthly check of $940 from the Maine State Retirement System.
While the idea of compensating former Baxter students had been discussed for years, it didn't gain momentum until 1998, when a group of victims, calling themselves A Safer Place, shared their grim stories with the Legislature.
Attention was focused on the issue again in 2001 when James Levier, a member of A Safer Place, was shot and killed by police in a supermarket parking lot in Scarborough. Damaged by the abuse he'd suffered at Baxter, and despairing about his future, the 60-year-old Levier was shot six times after he pointed a hunting rifle at a group of police officers.
"What happened to James got the ball rolling," said Claude Bolduc, a former Baxter student who lives in Bowdoin and is active in A Safer Place.
Just three days after Levier was killed, former Gov. Angus King apologized for the abuse inflicted on Baxter students, and made a commitment to compensate them.
But even as the Baxter Compensation Authority begins its work, there is agreement that the $6 million set aside by lawmakers two years ago will not be enough. In just five months, the authority has received 100 claims - from men and women - and since an estimated 400 students passed through Baxter while Youngs and Kelly were there, there could be hundreds more. Claims can be submitted until March 31, 2006.
"We've already made the Legislature aware of the fact that there's not enough money," said John Paterson, a Portland lawyer who's chairman of the authority's board. "But we ought to exhaust what we have first."
Claims are being prepared by the authority's two, full-time claims consultants, whose job is to meet with former students to record their stories and compile other school and medical information that may be helpful to the compensation panel.
The consultants have received special training to cope with the profound grief that many victims still feel.
"The consultants need to have an understanding of the effects of past abuse and, when they come up against still very raw wounds, how they can help people get through it," said Lucky Hollander, vice president of advocacy and prevention services at Youth Alternatives, which provided the training.
The three members of the compensation panel, chosen because of their legal experience, familiarity with deaf culture and knowledge of abuse, are David Norman, a retired lawyer; Meg London, an advocate at Family Crisis Services; and Michael Finneran, who is deaf and a former executive director of the Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont.
Much as a judge and jury do, the panel will review victims' stories and assess the impact of the abuse. So that it can recognize especially severe cases, the panel intends to review more than a dozen claims before making its first award.
Former students are not required to prove abuse beyond a reasonable doubt, as they would have to in court. They only must persuade the panel that there's "a reasonable likelihood" that they were abused at Baxter.
Norman, a former trial lawyer who specialized in medical malpractice cases, acknowledges that the panel's decisions will be somewhat subjective.
"Who deserves more and who deserves less. . . . You just hope you get it right," Norman said. "To me, the key to the thing is to be a good listener, be sensitive to what these folks are going through and do the best you can."
The settlements will not be taxable and compensation recipients will maintain their Medicaid eligibility. People unhappy with the amount of their awards can appeal to the board of directors of the Baxter Compensation Authority.
"The money is really just symbolic," said Lois Galgay Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services and a member of the authority board. "The fact that the state is finally saying, 'Yes, we believe this happened and it happened to you' is very important for these people."
Unquestionably, say Martineau, Bolduc and other former Baxter students, the payout and the governor's public apology are important. But neither will repair the severe damage done to them while students at the state-run school on Mackworth Island.
"I have been confused ever since I graduated and began living in the real world," said Martineau, who is now a social worker in central Maine. "I did not know the difference between right and wrong judgments."
Bolduc, who attended Baxter between 1963 and 1975, says he's tormented every day by memories of the sexual and physical abuse he suffered.
"There is not enough money for what I experienced," an anguished Bolduc said through an interpreter. "Is it better than nothing? Sure, but it's beans compared to what I suffered."
Staff Writer Mark Shanahan can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: