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In his 20 years as a law enforcement officer, Alexandria police Chief Donald Sullivan said he had never been so saddened and angered by the judicial process than on July 9. That day, nearly two dozen educators, school counselors and psychologists stood up for a child sex offender with the teenage victim seated feet away in a Rockingham County courtroom.
The sentencing of former school counselor Kristie Torbick made Sullivan furious as he thought about the sexual assault victims who might be silenced in the aftermath of the courtroom display.
“As professionals, we should be tearing down barriers, not putting them up,” Sullivan told the Monitor. “I’m now trying to combat the message victims are receiving. They need to know we are here, resources are available to you and we support you.”
Sullivan said he couldn’t stand by and do nothing on the heels of Torbick’s sentencing last month. Instead, he reached out to his community’s local crisis center, Voices Against Violence, and Danbury police to organize a community discussion about victim support services and ongoing prevention education work in local schools, which are part of the Newfound School District that previously employed Torbick.
His goal for Thursday night’s forum: “to restore faith in the system.”
“Sexual harassment at the New Hampshire State House is an ongoing problem, and we applaud those who bring this issue to light by reporting unacceptable behavior,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“We urge the leadership to continue to work to ensure that victims of harassment feel encouraged to come forward, that those who witness harassment intervene, and that there is accountability for those who create an unsafe work environment in the State House.”
On its website, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence posted a list of some of the professionals who provided support to Torbick and excerpts of their testimony:
In some cases these professionals submitted letters of support that contained views we consider to be even more alarming than those expressed by the two counselors who spoke at the sentencing hearing.
For instance, a sex offender treatment provider wrote to the court:
“Kristie takes full responsibility for her actions with her ‘victim.’ I put this in parentheses because I am aware that her ‘victim’ was truly the pursuer in this case.”
A pediatrician in Concord who worked with Kristie at a children’s camp, but was not involved in this case and therefore did not ever evaluate or interview the child, wrote: “She is not a threat to others or to society.”
And a friend of Kristie’s who is an attorney who worked with her at the same children’s camp writes: “Although I know it is now impossible, I would not hesitate for a moment to welcome her back to camp in her capacity as a cabin counselor; she was a treasure.”
“Students, parents, and administrators are appropriately demanding accountability for the two guidance counselors who crossed serious boundaries in the defense of their friend,” the coalition asserted. “Their actions not only re-victimized the young survivor in this case but also threatened the safety of the children in their own districts.”
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence called on the media not to name the victim, “to ensure her right to privacy and safety.”
“All victims of domestic violence face barriers when deciding whether to come forward and report their abuse. When the abuser is someone in the public eye, victims face additional public scrutiny, which often keeps them from speaking out,” said coalition executive director Lyn Schollet.
“These charges are serious. New Hampshire communities expect elected officials to uphold the laws they pass. We stand by this victim and all survivors in accessing resources and support and seeking justice,” Schollet said.
"The public and the parents are chomping at the bit to be able to speak their minds a little bit and have some outlet to express their concerns," Sullivan said, explaining that the Alexandria forum is aimed at reassuring people and informing them "how we would respond to reported sexual assault or violence that happens in the area."
He said Voices Against Violence, a crisis services agency in Plymouth, was "more than happy" to join with the Alexandria Police Department in holding the forum and letting residents know what resources are available. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also is supporting the upcoming forum, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9.
Sullivan also urges those with concerns about their children's safety at school to write to the superintendent, "so they have that to use in their decision-making on that personnel matter."
Responding to the records, Amanda Grady Sexton, public affairs director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which advocates for harassment and abuse victims, praised “those who bring this issue to light by reporting unacceptable behavior.”
But, she added: “We urge Leadership to continue to work to ensure that victims of harassment feel encouraged to come forward, that those who witness harassment intervene, and that there is accountability for those who create an unsafe work environment in the State House.”
He said the Alexandria forum is aimed at reassuring people that there are “true professionals out there who will treat victims with respect and support them.”
He said Voices Against Violence, a crisis services agency in Plymouth, was “more than happy” to join with the Alexandria Police Department in holding the forum and let residents know what resources are available to parents and victims of sexual assault, as well as “to see how we would respond to reported sexual assault or violence that happens in the area.”
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also is supporting the forum, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9.
Sullivan also urged those with concerns about their children’s safety at school to write to the superintendent, “so they have that to use in their decision-making on that personnel matter.”
“The pain and suffering (the victim) had to go through really strikes a chord with all of us and we don’t want to see any of our peers going through that,” said one Bedford High School student who has been talking to other students about finding ways to reach out to the victim.
The student, who asked not to be identified because of the heightened emotions surrounding the case, said he hopes the school can find a way to rebuild trust.
“In my opinion, the counselors should have the ability to reach out and clarify to the victim that although their words created additional pain, that wasn’t their intent and they do not condone the behavior of their former colleague. They should acknowledge that all of that should have been included in their statement.
“The same standards that we are held to as students should also apply to the staff that we look up to. If someone makes a mistake they should be able to own it and do whatever is needed to rebuild trust,” he said, adding that from a student perspective “watching the process of what they do to address it is more valuable than having everyone fired and thinking that will solve the problem.”
Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the NHCADSV, worries about the potential consequences of these individuals serving in positions where they are responsible for creating safe environments for our children.
“The actions of these professionals not only revictimized the young survivor in this case but also threatened the safety of the children in communities across New Hampshire and Vermont, who are less likely to report abuse when they believe that adults will not support or believe them when they come forward,” she said.