By MICHAEL LAFORGIA
The Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — By bedtime it already was too late for a boy. The lights blinked out and a stay counselor, a predator, lay down during his feet. Curled adult in a dark, he was prepared to attack.
Getting here was all too easy for James Roy Melton Jr. When a convicted child molester volunteered during this Palm City church summer camp, nobody stood in his way.
Not a church. It welcomed a tall, skinny 34-year-old as a newest girl chaperone though screening his background.
And not a state of Florida. For 30 years, lawmakers have upheld measures to strengthen kids in child-care centers while ignoring mistreat during a hands of summer stay workers.
Florida camps are totally unregulated. Nobody knows how many work here. Nobody checks adult on a people who run them.
As a result, children have suffered surpassing harm, a Palm Beach Post review has found.
That’s what happened on this night in a summer of 1997. Melton, who 10 years progressing had certified raping as many as 12 children, lay down among boys in Palm City. The kids fell asleep. He pulled down one 14-year-old’s shorts and molested him.
Convicted again in a Palm City attack, Melton was condemned to 30 years. He still is in prison.
But, opposite Florida, a dangers for children remain.
The state’s complement of defence kids in child-care centers relies on licensing. State regulators check day cares and other protected businesses to safeguard employees are entirely screened. There are no such mandate for camps.
That means molesters like Melton, along with aroused criminals or a exceedingly mentally ill, can pointer on — and have sealed on — as stay counselors statewide.
In a six-month stating effort, The Post compared millions of corporate filings with annals of rapist convictions; pored over tens of thousands of pages of justice documents, military reports and news clippings; and conducted dozens of interviews. In entrance days, a journal will lay out a commentary in a array of stories. Among a pivotal points:
Kids have been harmed.
They have been intimately molested in instances of preventable abuse.
And cases of mistreat — preventable or differently — occur frequently in Florida summer camps. Since 2000, during slightest 50 children have been victimized in summer programs, or abused by workers a kids initial encountered during stay organizations.
Because child passionate abuse mostly goes unreported — one guess puts a stating rate during one in 20 cases — that figure expected under-represents a series of victims statewide.
Many some-more kids are during risk.
All 50 states cruise child molesters and other sex offenders so dangerous that a supervision marks their movements, though zero stops them from operative in Florida camps. More than a few got jobs in summer programs.
In scores of other cases, rapists, murderers and other aroused criminals have led organizations that mostly run camps. Roughly 170 church or area girl programs have been operated by felons statewide, including some-more than dual dozen businesses led by child molesters or other sex offenders.
The groups are disproportionately clustered around a state’s lowest neighborhoods.
Lawmakers have famous for years.
Since a mid-1980s, legislators have been warned regularly of dangers in camps. Even so, they have taken probably no stairs to strengthen kids.
Jennifer Dritt, executive executive of a Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, pronounced The Post has identified a poignant problem.
“I consider people should compensate courtesy to it,” Dritt said. “And a legislature should compensate courtesy to it.”
Florida is one of 6 states that don’t permit camps in some form.
Its race of 19 million dwarfs a others on a list: North Carolina, Washington, Missouri, New Mexico and South Dakota.
In Texas, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte sponsored a successful check in 2001 requiring larger inspection for Texas stay workers.
“Children are intensely vulnerable, and quite children who are in a summer camp,” she said. “Don’t we wish to . name a stay that has left by a forms of processes that make certain that everybody who has entrance to your child has had a credentials check?”
Florida’s lawmakers haven’t abandoned camps altogether. On paper, laws requiring difficult FBI credentials checks seem to cover summer stay workers. But a same laws make no one obliged for enforcing a rules.