Thursday | July 02, 2015
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Group demands answers from state amid child abuse claims

An advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse is asking the state Department of Human Services and Catholic Charities to explain how children were continually placed in the care of Jay Ram, accused in a lawsuit of abusing boys he fostered and adopted.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which helped five men previously under Ram’s care file the lawsuit against him, said Thursday it is requesting Human Services and the charity do an independent investigation of the processes that allowed dozens of boys to be placed with the former Big Island resident.

“It is time for action,” Joelle Casteix, SNAP western regional director, said in a press release.

Casteix said the state and charity, both involved in placing children in Ram’s care, didn’t do enough to investigate complaints of sexual abuse.

“How many other children were abused because Catholic Charities and CWS (child welfare services) refused to listen to children who were being abused?” she said.

While at least two abuse complaints had been made against Ram previously, according to SNAP, he has never been formally prosecuted.

A spokeswoman for DHS, which oversees child welfare services, said staff were unavailable for comment Thursday due to legislative hearings at the state Capitol.

In a response to previous questions, the department said in an email that it has reviewed its case files relating to Ram. It’s unclear what conclusions, if any, the review made.

In the email, the department acknowledged allegations of abuse against Ram following his arrival to the Big Island in 1987.

“The Hilo Police Department conducted investigations into the allegations; the Children’s Justice Center also interviewed the children,” the email said. “Those allegations culminated in the DHS/CWS taking the children into protective custody and filing a petition with the Hilo Family Court. After review, the Hilo Family Court returned the children to Mr. Ram. Thereafter there were no further allegations of abuse or neglect that were brought to DHS/CWS’ attention.”

SNAP said more boys were placed in Ram’s care following those actions. The organization also said that Ram threatened the boys to keep them from speaking to authorities or verifying the complaints.

The group requests that Roselyn Viernes, East Hawaii administrator for child welfare services, be removed from her position pending an investigation.

A voicemail left with Viernes on Thursday was not returned.

The Catholic charity also could not be reached for comment.

Ram, who lived with numerous boys on a farm near Umauma for over 20 years beginning in 1987, is now residing in Odessa, Fla.

He is reportedly living with three males, one of whom is a either a young man or teenager from the Big Island, the Tribune-Herald confirmed.

Human Services said it had no information regarding how he came into Ram’s care.

A trial for the civil case will begin April 7, 2015 in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit was filed last year in Honolulu Circuit Court.

The men are allowed to file the lawsuit because of a two-year window the state granted victims of abuse for cases outside the statute of limitations. That window, which doesn’t apply to criminal charges, will close Thursday.

The Legislature is considering two bills to extend that timeframe.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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