Aid worker's Haitian victims demand compensation

Orphans at the La Hatte Children's Village in Haiti. Photo by: The Global Orphan Project / CC BY

The American aid worker convicted of sexually abusing Haitian boys while in charge of the Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap-Haïtien is facing another set of lawsuits.

Douglas Perlitz pled guilty to charges of sexual abuse and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December 2010. On Thursday (Dec. 5), however, 17 of his alleged victims — now adults — filed lawsuits in a U.S. District Court in Connecticut against Perlitz and the institutions involved in Perlitz’s school for street and abandoned children.

The men are each asking for $20 million in damages from each of the 18 defendants, including Perlitz, the Fairfield University, its former chaplain Paul Carrier, The Society of Jesus of New England and The Haiti Fund Inc., a nonprofit fundraising arm of the school based in Connecticut. The alleged victims said Carrier and the institutions “aided and abetted” Perlitz in his acts.

“They facilitated Perlitz’s crimes by continuing to provide him money and facilities to run PPT in the face of evidence that Perlitz was maintaining inappropriate relationships with boys in his care,” the lawsuits state, The Associated Press reports. They also allege Carrier of seeing Perlitz showing pornographic videos to a student in his bedroom.

The Society of Jesus of New England has already dismissed its involvement in the project, saying it was “not a mission” of the Society. Fairfield University lawyer Stan Twardy, meanwhile, said the university had no supervisory role at PPT and that they feel the case should be dismissed.

The Haiti Fund Inc. has yet to release a statement on the issue.

PPT is a charitable school for homeless boys. Perlitz took boys off the streets of Cap-Haïtien — Haiti’s second-largest city — and initially provided them food, shelter and education. He was said to have sexually molested the boys, who at that time were between 9 and 21 years old. He was arrested in Colorado in 2009 following a report from Haitian journalist Cyrus Sibert and investigations by the Haitian National Police, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division.

Incidents of sexual abuse by humanitarian workers in Haiti, Kenya and Thailand are quite high. In December 2010 — the time Perlitz was sentenced to prison — a study by the Geneva-based Human Accountability Partnership found that 723 aid recipients in the three nations have been sexually abused by paid international and national aid workers, as well as volunteers. Some 321 of the victims are male.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.