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Victim Advocacy Group: ‘No Place’ in NH House for Dem Accused of Stalking

As New Hampshire Democrats remain silent about one of their own sitting in jail on stalking charges, the state’s leading victim advocacy group is speaking out.

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) is currently being held without bail in Manchester’s Valley Street Jail on grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the public as well as the victim of her stalking and harassment. Laughton had already been found guilty of stalking the same Hudson woman named in the current complaint. The charges go back to at least 2019 before Laughton was elected as New Hampshire’s first transgender state representative.

Incoming House Democratic Caucus leader Rep. Matt Wilhelm and state party chair Ray Buckley have both refused to condemn Laughton’s behavior or respond to multiple requests for comment about her arrest.

But the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) is speaking out.

“We are extremely concerned by the numerous charges filed against Rep. Laughton. It is critical that individuals that hold positions of power be held accountable when they cause harm. There is no place in the New Hampshire legislature for those who perpetrate abuse,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, NHCADSV director of public affairs. “Stalking is rooted in a pattern of behavior intended to cause fear in the victim and can have long-term impacts on a survivor. Stalking is a very serious crime that has the potential to escalate to physical and even lethal violence,” Grady Sexton said.

One reason for the Democratic Party’s silence, critics said, was the GOP’s extremely narrow 198-201 majority in the House. As a result, every vote will count at Wednesday’s Organization Day session when representatives are sworn in and leadership positions are settled. Laughton’s vote could decide which party has a majority.

Democrats are also mounting a major campaign to oust current Secretary of State Dave Scanlan in favor of former State Sen. Melanie Levesque (D-Brookline).

Could Laughton leave jail to cast a vote on the floor of the State House? Under New Hampshire’s Constitution, state representatives cannot be stopped from attending House sessions and police are prohibited from arresting representatives en route to the legislature.

“Democrats could solve this problem by announcing in advance they will refuse to seat Laughton,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “But they haven’t, which means they care more about politics than protecting women.”

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after pleading no contest last summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

She is scheduled for a hearing in Nashua District Court on Dec. 22, during which she could enter into a plea agreement to resolve her case. Even if she misses Organization Day, Laughton would be free to serve in the House once she is released as she is not currently charged with any felonies.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation. That bid was cut short when it was deemed she was legally ineligible for office at the time since she was still technically serving her suspended sentence for the felony credit card fraud case.

In Light of St. Paul’s Sexual Misconduct Report, Advocacy Groups Turn to Lawmakers for Solutions

After the bombshell report came out last week that found a disturbing number of faculty and staff members at St. Paul’s School committing sexual misconduct with students, advocacy groups are looking for political solutions to ensure that those incidents don’t happen again and justice is given to the victims.

St. Paul’s announced the findings Monday and admitted there were times when administrators at the elite prep school in Concord failed to adequately protect students on campus over a 40-year period from 1948 to 1988. The independent investigation by the Casner & Edwards law firm began after allegations surfaced against a former faculty member in 2000.

The investigation looked into allegations involving 34 faculty members and staff at St. Paul’s School, referred to as SPS in the report. The investigation determined that 13 school employees, 12 of whom were male, committed sexual misconduct and there were unsubstantiated claims of sexual misconduct by an additional 11 current and former faculty and staff.

“Put simply but starkly, several former faculty and staff sexually abused children in their care in a variety of ways, from clear boundary violations to repeated sexual relationships to rape,” the report found.

Substantiated cases included two chaplains, three teachers who ended up marrying students soon after they graduated St. Paul’s, and a top female administrator whose relationship with a male student in 1980 was well-known on campus.

The investigation found that the school has been willing to overlook alleged sexual misconduct in exchange for a teacher leaving, even giving one accused teacher letters of recommendation for a new job.

In a letter to the St. Paul’s community about the investigation, school officials said they wanted to make it public to be fully transparent and to learn from the school’s past mistakes so they can do better in the future.

“It is especially difficult when trust, the foundation of community, has been compromised. Our history with regard to sexual abuse and sexual misconduct is a painful one,” wrote Rector Michael Hirschfeld and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr. “From the Board of Trustees to those charged with executing the mission on the grounds, the School is committed to confronting this history squarely so that it will remain a source of our continual improvement into the future.”

To make change, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) believes lawmakers should reform the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases. Under current state law, child victims of sexual abuse only have until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit and until their 40th birthday to press criminal charges.

“It is a huge injustice to victims and it doesn’t acknowledge the true trauma of sexual assault,” said Jessica Eskeland, public policy specialist at the NHCADSV. “Sexual assault is not like any other crime. It can cause trauma and there is so much shame since the abuse usually happens at the hands of someone who they trust and respect. For many, they don’t feel ready to come forward until their 40s, 50s, or even 60s.”

There are two bills currently in the Legislature that would eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assaults for children under 18 years old. Senate Bill 98 and Senate Bill 164 are both tabled in the Senate Judiciary Committee until the next legislative session in 2018.

“We’ll be working with lawmakers next year to tighten this up and have victims access justice whenever they’re ready,” Eskeland told NH Journal. “We want to make sure everyone is on a level playing field regardless of where they experienced violence.”

The NHCADSV would also like to fix what they see as a glaring loophole in the New Hampshire’s Safe Schools Act. Under the act, schools are not legally required to report misdemeanor sexual assault to police, leaving the decision to report up to the discretion of school officials. Misdemeanor sexual assault would are cases involving sexual contact between minors and other minors or young adults. The N.H. Safe Schools Act only refers to felony-level sex crimes and exempts simple assaults if the school has a policy for notifying parents.

Yet, the act directly conflicts with the state’s Child Protection Act, mandating schools report suspected instances of child abuse and neglect. Schools often have agreements, known as memorandums of understanding, with police agencies. St. Paul’s and the Concord Police Department signed an agreement in September 2012 and it remains in currently remains in effect. The current agreement is written in compliance with the N.H. Safe Schools Act and states that misdemeanor assaults should be handled on a case-by-case basis. There is nothing in the agreement, though, mentioning misdemeanor sexual assault.

 

Eskeland said one of the most important ways a school can help is to educate its staff, faulty, and students on sexual assault prevention. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center and a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, agreed in a Sunday op-ed in the Concord Monitor outlining steps schools should take to reduce their vulnerability.

He said schools need to send a clear message “that the era of ‘managing’ these offenses is over.” Schools need rules, training, and reminders about the high-risk situations in schools, they need to talk openly to students and faculty about the problem and about the responsibility of bystanders, and teachers need self-management tools.

Yet, he cautioned about trying to solve all the sexual misconduct issues in schools through legislation. He said research has found that the most effective solutions are through education and not through increasing sentences or penalties, which lawmakers might try to do.

“The schools are being asked to do so much and have various mandates that it is hard without additional resources and additional incentives to step up to the plate,” he told NH Journal. “I’m not sure…[it’s] best handled by legislation. They [lawmakers] might well end up creating more problems than solutions.”

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