Haitian Students Sue Connecticut School Over Sexual Abuse

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Palais_de_Sans-souci_side_view_02062012.jpgA tragic saga involving sexual abuse of poor children at a school in Haiti began a new chapter earlier this month, when seventeen Haitian men filed a lawsuit against Fairfield University, a Jesuit college in Connecticut, and others for damages arising from sexual abuse by Douglas Perlitz. Perlitz is a Fairfield graduate who founded Project Pierre Toussant (PPT) in 1997 to provide education and other care to impoverished youth in Haiti’s second-largest city. The program took children in from the streets and offered educational services, sports, meals, and other amenities. Supporters at Fairfield University and in the surrounding community formed a nonprofit organization, The Haiti Fund, to assist in fundraising in 1999.

Perlitz ran PPT from its founding until sometime in 2008, when allegations of sexual abuse appeared and the Haiti Fund’s board of directors removed him. Allegations detailed multiple incidents of sexual abuse of children in PPT’s care by Perlitz. He allegedly threatened to kick children out of PPT if they did not cooperate with him. Perlitz was arrested in 2009,

Federal prosecutors charged him with “traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.” This is a federal crime intended to prevent trafficking of minors across state or national boundaries for the purpose of committing “illegal sex acts.” The PROTECT Act, passed by Congress in 2003, made it a crime, punishable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to engage in “illicit sexual contact with a minor” while abroad, even if the person did not intend to do so at the time they left the U.S. This law was intended to combat “sex tourism.” Perlitz pleaded guilty to one count of traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual contact in August 2010. A judge sentenced him to nineteen years and seven months in federal prison that December.

Seventeen Haitian men, ranging in age from 18 to 29 and alleging that they were victims of Perlitz, filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Connecticut on January 5. Each plaintiff claims $20 million in damages. A total of twenty-one victims have filed lawsuits related to abuse allegedly brought on by Perlitz. The latest lawsuit names Perlitz, Fairfield University, The Haiti Fund, The Society of Jesus of New England, and certain current and former Fairfield officials as defendants. It alleges that the school and the other defendants both “aided and abetted” and helped conceal Perlitz’s abuse. In one instance, a Fairfield official allegedly removed Perlitz’s computer from Haiti and then returned it to Perlitz in the United States in order to prevent law enforcement from discovering sexually explicit material stored on the hard drive.