A mom at 12: Sex-abuse victim to receive $3M from DSHS
A woman who gave birth at age 12 says she suffered 15 more years of abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend because the state failed to investigate properly. Her legal settlement is one of the biggest ever against the Department of Social and Health Services in a single-plaintiff case.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Washington state has agreed to pay $3 million to a woman who claimed officials did not properly investigate when she gave birth at age 12 after receiving essentially no prenatal care.
As a result, the woman, who identified herself by the initials R.R., said she was made to suffer 15 more years of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of the baby’s father — her mother’s boyfriend.
R.R. will now receive one of the biggest-ever legal settlements from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in a single-plaintiff case, according to the state.
“This was an outrageous failure on DSHS’ part,” said Michael Pfau, who along with Jason Amala represented R.R. “They did virtually no investigation concerning a 12-year-old pregnant girl, which allowed her to essentially be held captive for over a decade and raped on a daily basis.”
The settlement averts a trial in a lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court in April 2012.
State officials said they did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement.
DSHS spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said the state did investigate after the 1995 pregnancy and provided parenting support to the preteen but was not informed by the sixth-grader or her mother of any sexual abuse.
The man has not been charged with abuse.
Yet state documents, provided by Pfau and Amala, paint a puzzling picture of DSHS’ investigation into the pregnancy.
A “summary assessment” completed in March 1996 noted that “there has been expressed concern by an older daughter in the family of physical and verbal abuse by the mother’s boyfriend, and possibly sexual abuse.”
The document added that “the whole situation raised lots of questions, but there was no evidence of any neglect of the infant.”
Ultimately, according to the document, “the caseworker had never pushed for a lot of information, as it was hoped to just get a foot in the door and establish a trust level.”
Any gained trust proved pointless because the family left the state shortly after R.R. gave birth.
Pfau, who called DSHS’ apparent strategy “really shocking,” said officials should have discovered the abuse without having to be immediately and explicitly told about it.
“When they get a report like this, there are a number of things they’re supposed to do to isolate the child, make them feel comfortable, try to get them to report. Kids don’t tell unless you do those things,” he said. “You don’t basically just wash your hands and not do anything.”
Pfau said R.R. gave birth in Boise, Idaho, to another child by her mother’s boyfriend 10 months later.
After that, Pfau said, the abuse continued as the family moved around Washington, Idaho and Utah.
Pfau said R.R. was first allowed to use the Internet when she was 27 years old. She left the family and filed the lawsuit after receiving encouragement from a friend she met in an online chat room, he said.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal