The Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project has served the students of the valley for 11 years and their mission may be more valuable than ever with the arrest of two local young men accused of sexual crimes with minors.
On Oct. 12, Casey Crockett, 25, was taken into custody and later charged for Lewd Acts Upon A Child for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old boy in the restroom at the Westfield Town Center Mall.
This week, 19-year-old Michael Downs of Valencia faces 29 felony counts of sex crimes with a dozen minor girls age 12 to 16.
“Regardless of whether or not this kid did something with these teenagers there is a culpability that we all have as adults, as counselors as community leaders, whatever it is, we need to educate them about that behavior,” said Kim Goldman, (pictured at left) Executive Director of the SCV Youth Project.
The SCV Youth Project works with the William S. Hart School District on all the campuses to various degrees. Their main service is peer mentoring, counseling and support groups.
At the end of each semester, Goldman says she and her program coordinator meet with the counseling staffs to determine what they can improve upon and what their needs are for the next semester.
Even before the recent arrest of Downs, the SCV Youth Project and the school counselors knew a big issue for teens was the use of technology in relation to sexual promiscuity.
Special Victims Bureau Detective Rich Simmons who is investigating the Downs case said the young man had a relationship with his victims through social media websites.
“He used Facebook as one of his tools,” said Simmons.
“There are kids that are very trusting because it’s Facebook, and you believe that Facebook is safe, it’s been proven over and over again that the internet and some of those websites are a feeding frenzy for predators,” said Goldman.
On Thursday Rob Challinor, superintendent of the Hart School District, sent parents an email with the following message:
“During this season of gift giving and exchanging we would like to remind parents that electronic gifts such as smart phones, iPads and computers can offer your child a great way of communicating with you, conducting research for school assignments and staying in touch with family and close friends, but it also poses some dangers to our young teens when not properly supervised. Please be mindful of your child’s use of social media and engage in frank conversations with them about the risks involved.”
Challinor mentions frank conversations – and that, says Goldman, is the SCV Youth Project’s mission.
“Whether it’s Facebook or texting or just in the back of a truck, it’s happening. So there’s a breakdown in communication. People in this valley are very much in denial when it comes to what their kids are doing and what the issues are that they’re faced with,” Goldman said.
She says the more parents put their heads in the sand the more stories of sexual predators will erupt. She says the SCV Youth Project can help parents educate their children.
“The benefit of the Youth Project is we’re kind of on the down-low, we’re cool and it’s confidential and the kids can ask their questions and they can share stuff with us and gives us an opportunity to help guide them down a different path,” said Goldman.
Goldman says her staff is cool because they’re still fairly young – first and second year master’s students from Cal State LA and CSUN. She also has a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Marriage and Family Therapist who supervises the staff.
When asked how the Youth Project could help girls, she redefined the question. Boys need protection, too.
“Young boys complain often that the young girls are incredibly promiscuous and very aggressive. So I would empower genders to have the comfort and confidence to not engage in behaviors that are potentially risky and harmful. You don’t have to touch body parts in order to prove that you like somebody,” Goldman said.
Goldman says she knows you can’t stop sexual assault. You can’t stop rape. You can’t stop the alleged pedophilia that’s made the news recently.
“We just try to focus on the proactive element of it. Okay, this is what happened, it happens all the time. This went unreported for god knows how long, but let’s focus on what we can do to prevent the number of cases that will inevitably happen in the future. It’s going to continue happening.
For more information on the SCV Youth Project and how to donate to the non-profit organization, click here: http://www.helpnothassle.org.