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Sexual Abuse at Kiwanis International’s Vocational Homes

Attorneys at PCVA have already settled multiple lawsuits against Kiwanis International for alleged sexual abuse of boys placed in the organization’s “vocational” group homes at the Kiwanis Vocational Home (KVH or Coffee Creek Center) and the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch (OKBR).

We believe dozens, if not hundreds, of men were abused as children at the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch and the Kiwanis Vocational Home. If you or someone you love is one of them, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our experienced attorneys.

What is Kiwanis, and what are these homes’ histories?

Kiwanis International is a nonprofit organization claiming its mission is to “improve the lives of children” around the world and “pursue creative ways to serve the needs of children, such as fighting hunger, improving literacy and offering guidance.”

From 1971 to 1994, the State of Washington funded foster group home placements for boys between 10 and 17 years old at the OKBR and the KVH, later rebranded as the Coffee Creek Center.

The Olympia, Washington, Kiwanis Club launched the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch in 1971 with 13 boys between 11 and 16 years old. It eventually housed more than 70 boys at a time, some as young as 10. Flagrant abuse at the OKBR became rampant, and the home was shut down in late 1994 amid countless allegations of abuse.

The Centralia, Washington, Kiwanis Club founded its own group home for troubled boys, Kiwanis Vocational Home, in 1979 with four boys. Growing at a tremendous rate, it housed 40 boys in 1984 and 82 boys in 1991 before it, too, was shut down for persistent abuse allegations.

Who were the abusers, and how and when did the abuse occur?

OKBR took the most difficult cases from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS): troubled boys with difficult pasts and criminal histories. Despite branding itself as a treatment facility for survivors of sexual abuse and receiving state money for counseling and therapeutic services, the home – overcrowded and with untrained and insufficient staff – became a hell where punishments included horrific beatings and where even the youngest residents were repeatedly beaten and raped by their housemates. When the OKBR was finally shut down, an average of two known “reportable” incidents of physical or sexual abuse were occurring every week. Staff members deemed it impossible to prevent the boys from engaging in physical and sexual abuse.

Like OKBR, at KVH, overcrowding, understaffing and allegations of abuse by resident boys and staff became a regular occurrence beginning in 1982 but were dismissed and covered up. It took nine years before KVH’s director was finally accused of sexually abusing resident boys and eventually resigned. His replacement was later accused of physically abusing the boys at least 12 times with none of the incidents reported to Child Protective Services (CPS). Here, too, as at OKBR, older boys preyed on younger boys, abusing them physically and sexually. Starting in 1985, reports of sexual abuse between residents and by staff and other adults were a regular occurrence. In 1991, the state noted that KVH was operating with “no social worker, no vocational program, no school and no work program,” despite receiving state funding for such programs. The KVH was rebranded as the Coffee Creek Center in 1992, but its problems continued, and it finally closed in 1994.

A local news story from 1995 described the OKBR as: “a place where newcomers were ‘initiated’ with group beatings; where punishment included ‘open season,’ a sanctioned invitation for other kids to pummel an offending child; where the assistant director thought it was ‘fun’ for the boys to scramble for cigarettes tossed from an upstairs window; where the youngest and most vulnerable lay awake expecting to be raped by their housemates; where, after all that, a child so young he needed help to make a phone call could run away and beg — unsuccessfully — to be taken anywhere but back to the O.K. Boys Ranch.”

How has the state covered up and dismissed abuse at the Kiwanis group homes?

The conditions for children at these group homes could only be described as torture, as the duty to rehabilitate, teach and provide safety for these boys was replaced by routine and pervasive physical, sexual, and ongoing mental and emotional torment. The number of boys irreparably scarred by their time in the Kiwanis homes will never be known. Yet, the dangerous combination of money from powerful donors, politics and cronyism prevented anyone from acting to protect these children. In just one example, a local man who donated property worth $20,000 to the OKBR was “recognized” for his contribution by being allowed weekend visits from resident boys who he was later convicted of molesting.

The state was directly complicit in these abuses. In a state audit of the OKBR conducted as early as 1989, the home failed to meet eight of the 10 minimum requirements for state licensing. Yet, the auditor’s report was ignored and the home re-licensed. In 1991, the state’s deputy secretary intervened to keep the OKBR open, ordering his staff to “work it out.” Still, criminal activity among the staff and the boys was ignored, mandatory reporting laws violated and sexual violence dismissed without investigation with staff members claiming that “boys will be boys.”

While in charge of both homes, Kiwanians were politically connected and managed to evade consequences. According to the Seattle Times, the police unsuccessfully sought criminal charges against the OKBR’s administration at the OKBR because the Thurston County prosecutor, who was president-elect of the Olympia Kiwanis Club, declined to file charges. The Washington DSHS knew of the abuse for at least five years before shutting these homes down. That’s why the state is now being held accountable for its part in this devastating tragedy.

How have the lawsuits unfolded?

According to Darrell Cochran, a PCVA attorney for plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits against Kiwanis-sponsored boys homes, “For over 30 years, the dark and sinister stories of child rapes and sexual assaults have lain entombed in a shroud of secrecy and shame. Like an archaeological dig, we needed to unearth this, study its horror, tell the truth about what happened so we learn from it and give these spirits a peace of mind to move forward.”

To date, PCVA has reached millions in settlements with Kiwanis International and several local Kiwanis Clubs on behalf of plaintiffs, many of whom were sexually abused while placed in the Kiwanis Vocational Home (KVH), and then later Coffee Creek Center, as wards of the state. Many of the plaintiffs also experienced severe physical abuse and neglect at the hands of staff. Overall, in spite of defendants’ claims that the Kiwanis clubs at issue had no role in the day-to-day operation of the boys homes and the efforts of the state to settle claims discreetly, news stories and even legislative hearings brought all of the allegations to light. The State of Washington has already spent at least $50 million to settle claims brought by dozens of former residents.

Why don’t the abused always come forward right away?

Those who have been sexually abused often don’t come forward right away. The psychological reasons are many, but common reasons seem to fall into a few categories: shame, guilt, denial or disbelief, uncertainty, fear of not being believed, avoidance, or lack of information – just to name a few. But seeing survivors coming forward may inspire confidence and hope in others and even bring long-suppressed memories of abuse to the forefront. Everyone has a right to tell their story and be heard, and, if possible, achieve justice for the suffering they have experienced.

I believe I was abused at a Kiwanis boys home, but should I file a lawsuit?

The decision to file a civil lawsuit over damages caused by sexual abuse is a personal one. Factors you should balance are the benefits of exposing the wrongs of your perpetrator and possibly receiving compensation for your pain versus the requirement to provide information about the trauma you experienced and other aspects of your personal life.

I suffered abuse at a Kiwanis Vocational Home. How long do I have to file a lawsuit in Washington State?

In Washington State, a special statute of limitations allows many victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits for the abuse they suffered many years later, even as adults. That law recognizes that survivors of childhood sexual abuse may not realize or appreciate how the sexual abuse harmed them until much later in life. If you were sexually abused at a Kiwanis-run facility, please contact us so that we can confidentially explain your legal options.

How can PCVA help?

Our nationally recognized attorneys have represented thousands of sexual abuse survivors, helping them achieve justice by holding the institutions that failed to protect them accountable and recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on their behalf. Our attorneys have been involved in some of the most complicated and concerning sexual abuse cases in the country and are often consulted by other law firms for guidance and expertise when representing sexual abuse survivors.

Importantly, PCVA’s sexual abuse attorneys are trained in trauma-informed counsel. This means that to prevent re-traumatization, we have undergone professional training on how to work with individuals who have been subjected to trauma. When you work with us, know that you are working with an advocate who represents you with the utmost empathy and care.

Can I come forward or sue anonymously if I’m worried about my privacy?

Most likely. The law usually allows attorneys to file lawsuits on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse using a pseudonym, like “John Doe” or “Jane Doe,” or our client’s initials. Moreover, it may be possible to resolve your case privately without filing a lawsuit or going to court.

What should I do if I want to speak with a PCVA attorney?

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse or assault, our attorneys are here to listen and help. Schedule a no obligation consultation with one of our lawyers by completing our online form or calling us at (253) 777-0799 or (206) 462-4334 all conversations are completely confidential. 

How much do you charge?

Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive, and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.

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