Reports of a man charged with sexually abusing at least five boys while working at a Duluth youth care facility underscore the need for employers to rigorously vet, train and supervise their employees to prevent child sexual abuse.
Mark David Painter, 28, of Hermantown, Minn., was charged last week with sexually abusing at least five boys ranging from ages 13-17 while working at Hills Youth and Family Services in Duluth. The facility, formerly known as Woodland Hills, offers after school care, mental health services and treatment for adjudicated youths.
Police responded to a report of three runaways on July 21, according to the criminal complaint. Officers located three juveniles near the facility. The juveniles told officers that they left the facility after being sexually harassed and assaulted there by a staff member later identified as Painter, according to the complaint.
Investigators interviewed juveniles under Painter’s care and several reported that he created a system in which he traded sexual acts for contraband he provided to the juveniles, according to the complaint. Investigators identified five victims who were sexually assaulted in exchange for items such as cigarettes and tattoo ink, the complaint said.
In a statement, Hills Youth and Family Services stated that Painter, who was hired in March, is no longer employed there. The facility also stated it is assisting the police in its investigation.
That is too little, too late. Employers working with children have a legal and moral imperative to conduct thorough background checks of anyone they consider hiring. If they don’t do this, they are failing the children they work with. Employers must also train their employees to set boundaries with children and recognize red-flag behavior in co-workers. If this is not done, the employer has failed the children.
In addition, employers must supervise their facilities and employees in a manner that prevents child abuse from occurring. This includes a number of things, including properly monitoring conduct and paying attention to suspicious behavior. It is appalling that Painter was able to give kids cigarettes in exchange for sex at this facility. Allowing that to happen is simply failing to protect children.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, there are resources available to help you. In Minnesota, advocacy programs in your area are just a call away and are dedicated to helping survivors and those traumatized by unhealthy relationships seek safety and be safe. Check www.rapehelpmn.org/find-help/ for an advocacy program in your area. Further, nationally, you can seek help through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (“RAINN”) https://www.rainn.org/get-help, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673.