Originally created 10/24/98

Girl sues Aiken shelter for alleged rape



AIKEN -- A shelter for abused and neglected children was sued Friday by a girl who says she was raped while living at the home and has given birth to her assailant's child.

The alleged incident is just one of many problems the shelter has encountered in the past two years, including allegations of negligence and improper care.

The suit, filed in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas, says Helping Hands Inc. was "the direct and proximate cause of the injuries, both mental and physical, suffered by Jane Doe (the plaintiff)."

She is asking the court for an unspecified amount of money for mental and physical injuries from the alleged sexual assault and costs for the birth and upbringing of her child.

The suit stems from an incident that allegedly happened on or about Jan. 22. Jane, a minor under the age of 14, had been placed in the custody of Helping Hands while the state Department of Social Services investigated claims that she had been abused in her home.

While she was at Helping Hands, two adolescent boys staying at the home forced her into a closet and repeatedly sexually assaulted her, according to the suit. The suit alleges that no employee of the home attempted to intervene and stop the assault.

Jane Doe lives in Richmond County with her custodial grandmother, who is named as her guardian in the suit.

A phone call to Helping Hands on Friday afternoon was referred to Richard Tansky, president of the Helping Hands board of directors. He had not yet read the lawsuit, so he would not comment at this time, he said.

This is not the first time Helping Hands has run into trouble. Last July, one of its child care workers was put on administrative leave without pay after a 3-year-old boy got separated from the rest of the shelter's group at Aiken's All American Street party. In June 1997, the shelter was sued for gross negligence by a then 15-year-old girl who fell off a fire truck after a special event at the shelter and sustained injuries resulting in a broken neck and a pelvic deformity.

The shelter nearly lost its license in January 1997 when the Department of Social Services cited the shelter for not providing proper care for the children and allowing the shelter to fall into disrepair. The department's report said the children weren't fed enough, lacked proper medical care and weren't being disciplined.

The state fell three months behind in grant payments to the shelter while the shelter was under review. The shelter -- which can house about 56 children -- got its permanent license back in March 1997.

Helping Hands was started in the 1970s as an alternative to the county jail as a place for abused and neglected children to live until they're placed in foster care. It is one of 13 such shelters throughout the state.

It was intended to care for children only 45 days at a time, but children have spent more than a year in its care. It is funded by the United Way and state funds administered through the Department of Social Services. It is staffed by full- and part-time employees and some volunteers.

Todd Bauer is a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.