Recently I have found inspiration from the fictional character in House of Cards, Claire Underwood. In the show she pushes a very controversial sexual assault bill through Congress and tries to get it approved and her determination on the issue made me want to start blogging again. I realized that this isn't just for me to get my thoughts out onto this blog: this blog is a tool and gives me a voice to speak up against the growing, omnipresent problem of sexual violence. This post deviates slightly from the trend of my past entries, but I feel it is important all the same.
While many internet and social media users were (and still are) obsessing over the color of the dress, something came to my attention via Facebook that made me sick to my stomach. Admittedly even I got caught up in the debate over the dress and I was embarrassed that it distracted me from a real issue that I should have written about months ago: the "re-homing" of a six year old girl and her three year old sister.
Arkansas Representative Justin Harris and his wife Marsha adopted the two girls in September 2012, taking them out of a household that exposed both girls to a sexually abusive older male relative. This is a noble gesture by any means, but it obviously didn't last. The Harris family gave the two girls to Eric and Stacey Francis in October 2013, citing irreconcilable behavioral problems with the girls. Harris knew the Francis family because Eric previously held a job at Harris' family business, Growing God's Kingdom Preschool, from November 2013 to January 2014 and was fired for "poor work attendance".
Harris said that "[w]hen our adoption became final, we went to the court, the whole family, exchanged teddy bears and everything -- and it was like a light bulb suddenly flipped on for the girls. They knew, suddenly knew, that this was their forever home, and they were no longer ever going back to Mom's house...[t]here was anger and an instant behavior change."
The Francis household then gave away the two girls to a third family, unbeknownst to the Harris family and the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). A hotline, operated by Arkansas Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) exists specifically to report child abuse. On March 28, 2014, an anonymous caller contacted the hotline and revealed the children were in a third household living with a couple that were not their legal guardians. CACD subsequently reached out to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and conducted an interview with the six year old girl, who revealed that Eric had raped her while his wife was out of state in January of 2014.
Eric Francis was around children constantly and after the truth of the sexual abuse was exposed, police immediately interviewed parents of the children who attended the preschool, but no one had anything incriminatory to say about Eric Francis, although there were two other incidents of sexual abuse in the outside community. Francis was arrested April 4th of 2014 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Justin and Marsha Harris have been claiming to be victims ever since the news of this horrendous situation was revealed to the public. Rep. Harris has been dodging questions and interviews and has said little about the situation. A statement released late on March 5th, 2015 stated that the children had "reactive attachment disorder" and "[d]ue to threats of possible abandonment charges, they were unable to reach out to DHS for help with children who presented a serious risk of harm to other children in their home. Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends[.]"
I am horrified that the practice of "re-homing" children is acceptable. Utah has no statute regarding the practice of re-homing, but I found that several states have tried to limit, as best they could, the practice of placing children in another home after they've already been adopted (see here for a full list). Children aren't animals and shouldn't be treated as such, and certainly should feel loved and cared for in any home. I'm disgusted that the Harris family chose to abandon their adopted daughters and put them in a home where they were once again exposed to abuse. The trauma that the six year old will have to endure is beyond my comprehension and I think the Harris' choice to do something like that to children they promised to parent is inexcusable.
A Child Left Unprotected