From Perth, Australia to Plainwell, Mich., there is a pattern of abuse that is making headlines around the world, according to the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, a group of concerned citizens in the United States, a voluntary organization formed to protect the exchange students that arrive in the thousands from all over the world to study in the U.S.
During their stay, the students share accommodations with a host family, or a welcome family, and in numerous cases the students were reportedly abused by their host parents.
Danielle Grijalva of Oceanside, CA, CSFES director, says that given the recent events in Florida, the U.S. States Department of State should now be requiring the student exchange industry to notify and seek the permission of the natural parents when they plan to place their son or daughter in the home of a parolee or convicted criminal. The form must include the parolee’s background and the Department of Corrections Number, when applicable, and include signature lines for the natural parents granting full permission.
Ms. Grijalva was referring to the situation of the placement of a 16-year-old female Japanese exchange student in the home of a St. Johns County family in Florida where the husband is a convicted felon. The man was convicted for burglary in 1994 and sentenced to 12 years of prison, including three years of prison in Georgia and nine years of parole. On one occasion, the man was charged with sexual battery and rape in Florida He is still on parole.
She said CSFES was notified of the situation last month.
Despite the husband being a convicted felon and a parolee, the family has hosted high school Japanese girls for the past three years.
The foreign student was placed with the St. Johns County family by a Gainesville company, the Foundation of Academic Cultural Exchange (FACE). Executive director Richard Moss, who supervised the placement of the Japanese student, admits that the firm rarely undertakes criminal background checks of prospective families. Moss said that he did not feel it was important to inform the natural parents of the fact that their daughter would be placed in the home where the host father is on parole until July, 2006. Furthermore, according to Ms. Grijalva, Moss did not notify the Japanese foreign partner of the conditions of this placement of its student.
When CSFES brought its concerns to the attention of the Department of State, Stanley Colvin informed Ms. Grijalva that the natural parents had since been notified and are perfectly fine with the knowledge that their daughter is living in the home of a parolee. He further stated to Ms. Grijalva that the 144 months the host father spent in prison and the nine counts against him was for a “minor run-in with the law.” When Mr. Colvin’s rationale was questioned by an overseas expert, he responded rudely on the lines that it was none of her business.
Ms. Grijalva said that what concerns CSFES is the effect this will this have on future placements of foreign exchange students. United States parents who are contemplating sending their son or daughter abroad should ensure that the student exchange agency does not place their children with hosts who have a criminal background. Much seems to depend on the integrity of the student exchange organization, but our experience has been that when things go wrong, the agency protects itself, not the students.
“The fact that this subject is being addressed is absolutely unconscionable”, Grijalva said. “However, due to the fact that this placement was approved by FACE, it must be addressed and brought to the attention of those concerned”.
She urges that anyone having questions or concerns about the placement of foreign exchange students should address them to Stanley Colvin , director of the Department of State office of exchange coordination at ColvinSS@state.gov or Ms. Danielle Grijalva, CSFES at DGrijalva@csfes.org. More information can be found by visiting the organization’s website atwww.csfes.org.
Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed new rules to screen host families and to regulate the agencies that sponsor the nearly 28,000 high school exchange students each year, nearly all of them minors.
There has been no requirement for a sponsor to report sexual abuse or molestation cases to the federal government nor maintain records of such cases but Colvin said that under the proposed new rules, all adult members of host families and personnel in sponsoring groups will be screened through the sex offender registry for criminal history. Sponsors would be required to report any allegation of sexual misconduct to local law enforcement agencies and to the State Department. If they fail to do so, their program would be closed.
Exchange students would be advised during orientation of inappropriate sexual contact and how to handle such occurrences.
The proposed rules were published in the Federal Register in August and were expected to go into effect after 30 days of public comment. 10-30-05
1986: Foundation for Academic Cultural Exchange, California (Fred Gonzales)
1998: Foundation for Academic Cultural Exchange, Inc., Florida (Richard Moss/Regina Bach/Beverly Moss/Roger Riske/Mutsumi Terui/ )
2012: The Foundation for Academic Cultural Exchange, Nevada (Richard Wiseman/Kunxiang Chen/Judith Counter)