Fla. group home’s sex policy raises questions

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

St. Petersburg Times reporter Justin George has painstakingly assembled the story of a group home for developmentally disabled adult men in Florida which, George writes, “enacted a bold and unorthodox policy permitting sex between residents.” Many of the men in the home were sex offenders and, according to experts, the policy created “a sexually charged atmosphere that may have encouraged sexual assaults.”

While this may sound more like a story for the crime and justice beat, keep in mind that the center “received approximately $100,000 in Medicaid funding per person annually for most residents,” despite reports that it is in an advanced state of disrepair.

George pulled hundreds of records from numerous government agencies and conducted more than 40 interviews over the course of two years. It shows in his reporting. You should read the full story to understand the breadth and complexity of the issue at hand, but I’ll summarize for the time-challenged.

Center officials regard sex as a basic human right (as the World Health Organization declared in 1975) and, in one 2005 case, “staff wrote that they could not evaluate whether Kevin was learning appropriate sexual behavior because his mother wouldn’t let him have sex with other campus men,” George found.

Compounding the problem, the state agency that oversees HDC (the group home) did not object to the policy until a whistle-blower complained to a state legislator. An investigation documented multiple instances of improper sexual activity between residents.
HDC officials say that banning sex is not the answer. It would deny basic rights and simply sweep the issue under the rug, a response they say is all too common when dealing with sex abusers.
But two years later, the state still has not written an official policy concerning sex in group homes. The whistle-blower was fired, and the mentally disabled man at the center of the controversy is stuck in a facility that he — like other men there — is desperate to leave.

After it learned of George’s investigation, the state finally set out to draft a policy for sex in state-run group homes, and perhaps for private homes as well.

A draft of one policy would ensure that sexually aggressive residents don’t room with anyone else, but it doesn’t prohibit sexual activity in group homes unless the disabled are children. Prohibiting adult sex might violate civil rights, Palecki said.
The Human Development Center’s revised policy on sexual behavior states it will not promote sexual activity among residents. Condoms will still be available, but only if competent adults ask for them.

George also tells the stories of two women who lost their jobs after speaking out about the situation and suspicions that a resident has been unable to move to a different home because his mother has cooperated with an investigation.

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