Former California Senator Martha Escutia Calls for Probe of Child Abuse at L.A. Elementary School and New Laws to Encourage Reporting

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Latino abuse victims and families are discouraged from reporting & prosecuting.

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We cannot tolerate sexual abuse of our children in the very institutions we count on to protect them.

Former California State Senator and attorney Martha Escutia today called for a wider investigation into emerging reports of potentially widespread child abuse occurring at a Los Angeles elementary school, as well as better laws to encourage child sexual abuse reporting by members of the Latino and other immigrant communities. Escutia’s comments came after news reports that Mark Berndt, 61, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles, was arrested for allegedly committing lewd acts against nearly two dozen students after a film processor gave authorities photographs of abuse allegedly taken by Berndt. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Sherriff’s spokesperson also disclosed that a container found in the trash in Berndt's classroom tested positive for semen.

“It is outrageous that these despicable acts against children could have gone undetected for so long,” said Escutia. Berndt reportedly worked at the mostly underprivileged Latino school for more than 30 years. According to investigators, no students came forward to report the abuse before the start of the investigation. “Latinos, and other ethnic groups, are frequent victims of child sexual abuse in our schools, churches, and other institutions, but they are much less likely to report abuse to authorities because of cultural factors as well as the fear of deportation in the case of undocumented families,” Escutia said.

Escutia, who represented the population in the area around Miramonte Elementary while she was in the California Assembly, has been a long-time champion of childhood sexual abuse victims. As a Senator, she was instrumental in passing California legislation that helped victims of abuse sue sexual predators and those who employ them. Now an attorney in private practice, Escutia frequently represents abuse victims and their families. She also hosts a weekly Latino public affairs radio show Sundays at KBUE 105.5 and 94.3 FM, Que Buena.

“We cannot tolerate sexual abuse of our children in the very institutions we count on to protect them,” said Escutia, who added that the revelations about the Miramonte abuse should come as a “wake up call” to law enforcement, school officials, and the legislature. “Without accountability on the part of our schools, our children will remain largely unprotected,” noted Escutia, who called for a discussion within the Latino community about preventing abuse as well as educational and legal efforts to promote reporting and eliminate the fear of deportation and other legal obstacles faced by the community.

The LA County Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau is encouraging victims of Berndt or other predators to contact them immediately at (877) 710-5273 or by email at specialvictims(at)lasd(dot)org. If you would like to remain anonymous, you can call the LA Crime Stoppers hotline by dialing 800-222-TIPS (8477).

About Martha Escutia and The Senators Firm
Senator Escutia (Ret.) is a former member of the California State Assembly and State Senate and is a co-founding partner of The Senators (Ret.) Firm, LLP. The Senators Firm represents individuals and families who have been injured or abused, combining years of experience in legislative, regulatory and complex litigation arenas. For more information on The Senators (Ret.) Firm please visit http://www.thesenatorsfirm.com or http://www.defiendetufamilia.com. Senator Escutia can also be heard in Spanish every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. through the radio show, Hablando Derecho, on KBUE 105.5 and 94.3 FM.

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