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Apodaca: Authorities must listen to and protect our children

February 10, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Once again, adults entrusted with the care of children have let them down.

If you've been following the news lately, you've no doubt been horrified by accounts of a Los Angeles elementary school teacher who allegedly subjected students to lewd acts, and revelations that complaints by students and parents had fallen on deaf ears for two decades.

The teacher in question has been accused of blindfolding and gagging students, and feeding them his semen. He was arrested late last month after a long investigation spurred by a drug store clerk who noticed disturbing photos that the teacher had dropped off for processing.

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But as shocking as the details emerging in this case have been, they are also heartbreakingly mundane. Time and again, we bear witness to the victimization of the most vulnerable and innocent among us, and the callous behavior of those who are complicit in the abuse because they chose to look away.

I've written about child sexual abuse before, most recently in this column not long after the Penn State scandal broke. I've covered the stories of abuse survivors such as Newport Beach residents Joelle Casteix and Elaina Kroll, who have channeled their pain into lifelong quests to hold pedophiles and those who shield them accountable.

In all the accounts of child abuse that I've come across there is one common, recurring thread: the unheeded cries for help that result in victimization twice over.

Make no mistake: those who have any reason to suspect that a child is being harmed and do nothing are guilty. In a collective sense, we are all culpable.

Truth be told, were any of us really surprised to learn that complaints had been made for years about the accused, Mark Berndt, who taught at Miramonte Elementary School in south Los Angeles?

One former student, for example, has come forward with allegations that during the 1990-91 school year a counselor told her and two other girls to stop inventing stories after they complained that Berndt appeared to be masturbating behind his desk. Other complaints by students and parents also led nowhere.

Now a second teacher at the school, Martin Bernard Springer, has been arrested and charged for allegedly fondling a child. Last week, in an attempt to quell parents' concerns, school officials temporarily replaced the entire Miramonte staff, though that's likely cold comfort to those whose voices have been ignored for so long.

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