Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Does a Sex Offender Look Like?

A terrible nursing home abuse case came to light in 2008 in Albert Lea, a town of 25,000 people in southern Minnesota, a couple of hours from the Twin Cities.

Investigators from the state Health Department found that six aides at the Good Samaritan home in Albert Lea physically and sexually abused as many as 15 residents who struggled with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Four of the six aides were juveniles. Their cases were handled in the juvenile system, where they were determined to have failed to report the abuse.

The other two aids - Brianna Broitzman, now 21, and Ashton Larson, 20, are being prosecuted in the adult system. Broitzman recently agreed to an Alford plea, which means she still asserts innocence but concedes there is enough evidence to convict her of gross misdemeanor disorderly conduct concering three of the victims. She will be sentenced on October 22. Larson's case is still pending, with a trial date not yet set.

The alleged conduct was deeply and egregiously offensive. Spitting in a resident's mouth. Jabbing the breasts. Sticking a finger up the rectum. Getting in bed with a resident and miming sexual intercourse. Not just disgusting, but shocking - and criminal.

In the Star Tribune account of Brianna Broitzman's plea, Iris Freeman, a law professor from St. Paul, pointed out that the Albert Lea case overwhelmed the previous stereotypes of a likely sex offender profile. For the abuse was perpetrated not by menacing, misfit men, with unappealing mug shots, but by nubile young women with appealing yearbook photos. Appealing photos that the online version of the Star Trib was happy to use.

Did the print version of the story refrain from spotlighting the fetching photos? I certainly hope so, but my wife and I now carry only a weekend subscription.

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