- Victory Forge Military Academy
Victory Forge, located in
Port St. Lucie, is a 12 month program which purports to utilize military style components for behavior modification. The target audience is rebellious and troubled adolescent males under the age of 18. The academy is accredited by the National Association of Christian Education ("NACE") [ [http://www.victoryhomes.org/fact_sheet.htm Fact Sheet ] ] . To be accredited by NACE, a school must fill out an application and be associated with a Church. No minimum educational guidelines are provided, although the school states that it follows the State of Florida's minimum educational guidelines when conferring academic credits to their students. The program is run within a boot camp structure which requires students to pass levels to gain privileges. [http://www.secretprisonsforteens.dk/fornitswiki/index.php/Victory_Forge_Military_Academy#Program_structure] The academy has been controversial since its beginning and recent child abuse allegations continue with that trend.
The facility was a former children's home founded by convicted child molester, Rev. William Brink of Brinkhaven Homes for Youth, in May 1985. Brink's two sons, Dale and Mark, adaughter, Molly, and her husband, Alan Weierman, were named as corporate officers. In 1992, Alan Weierman changed the name from Victory Children's Home to Treasure Coast Victory Children's Home and filed papers to have the home incorporated in Florida. This was done to distance the school from its convicted founder ["Children's Home May Lose Support", The Palm Beach Post, October 11, 1992, 1B] . In 1993, St. Lucie County commissioners voted to evict the residents of the facility from county property because Weierman refused to seek a state license to operate the shelter for neglected children ["County May Evict Children's Home", The Palm Beach Post, May 19, 1993, 1B] . Plans to move the facility to another location failed when neighbors opposed it at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The facility then moved to its current location, a 5 bedroom house at 602 Biltmore St. and continues to operate at this location.
The President of Victory Forge, often referred to as the Colonel, is Alan Weierman. He claims to have a PhD. in specialized business, a Masters Degree in counseling and Psychology, and is a certified Behavioral Analyst. [http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/apr/26/state-urges-parents-pull-their-sons-victory-forge-/?feedback=1 Comments posted by Al Weierman] Although he never achieved a rank of a Colonel in the military, he continues to use that title. The logic is that based on his current role, he is an equivalent of a Colonel. [Need Source] This approach appears to be a violation of 18 U.S.C. 912 which prohibits individuals from pretending to be officers of any department of the U.S. [http://trac.syr.edu/laws/18/18USC00912.html] In addition, several attempts have been made to confirm whether Mr. Weierman has received a PhD., but those attempts have not been fruitful leading several to believe that the degree may be obtained via a diploma mill. [http://parentsvf.blogspot.com/2008/09/weierman-has-no-phd-either.html]
Mr. Weierman was a troubled youth himself. His dad was an alcoholic who supposedly was a very violent man who beat up the family daily. Mr. Weierman's mother died when he was 11. Mr. Weierman has stated that he was an alcoholic by age 10 and was involved with drugs, gangs, and crime. [ [http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-45186946.html INSPIRING BY EXAMPLE, TUTOR TAKES KIDS UNDER WING | Article from The Palm Beach Post | HighBeam Research ] ]
In 1986, while working at his father-in-laws Brinkhaven Home in Ohio, Mr. Weierman was accused by a 16 year old female resident at the facility that he had sex with her 30 times between August 1985 and June 1986. The police chief of Lawrence Township stated that "his investigation found sufficient probable cause to prosecute Weierman, including a polygraph test given the girl and a calendar she kept of the alleged sexual encounters" [ [http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=AK&s_site=ohio&p_multi=AK&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB62DC48FBED71F&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM Search Results ] ] Eventually, there was not sufficient evidence to corroborate the girl's allegations, the charges were ultimately dropped by the City Prosecutor. Summit County Children Services officials contend that Brinkhaven did not inform the authorities of these allegations, a notification required by Ohio law. Instead, when the girl left the facility (two months after the abuse), she complained to her relatives who contacted the police. On October 7, 1986 the prosecutor sent a letter to Summit County Children Services officials explaining why charges were not filed. Their reason "the length oftime that had elapsed' between the girl's departure from Brinkhaven and when police were called in". Ibid]
In 1989, Weierman was charged with obstructing justice for not reporting an allegation of child molestation filed by two girls, against a former director of the school. The charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt [Children's Home May Lose Support", The Palm Beach Post, October 11, 1992, 1B] .
Child Abuse Allegations
According to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) [http://www.state.fl.us/cf_web/] , there have been numerous child abuse cases reported against this facility. DCF has investigated 35 prior abuse allegations at Victory Forge [http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/jun/14/report-dcf-has-investigated-35-child-abuse-claims-/ Report: DCF has investigated 35 child-abuse claims at Victory Forge Military Academy : St. Lucie County : TCPalm ] ] , the most recent being on April 24, 2008. At the conclusion of the latest investigation, the DCF stated that they had "serious concerns about the safety and welfare of children". In addition, the DCF stated in their summary report that Victory Forge staff were believed to have "engaged in physical discipline that is harmful to children, such as choking to unconsciousness, punching, kicking, banging heads into walls and cabinets." DCF officials found enough evidence to determine that a boy had been choked and subjected to bizarre punishment and mental injury, and that other boys had been threatened with harm. Many cases were reported where kids where thrown across tables, heads banged against the wall, choked to the point of passing out, made to eat their own vomit. It had been reported in local media that there had been children found bound in shackles at the facility [ [http://www.federaljack.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1155&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0 Federal Jack - Police found teenage boy in shackles at Florida boarding school ] ] . DCF also noted staff at the academy, who are not related to Weierman, had a "pattern" of leaving the facility during an investigation. DCF officials used a private investigator to find staff member Justin Reaves, who then told DCF officials he left because of the DCF investigation. He also told DCF he felt abuse was occurring.
Since the parents of students had signed a contract accepting this risk, the DCF could not shut down the establishment. Moreover, since the abuse charges could not be verifed, beyond a reasonable doubt as the wounds were healed or no witnesses existed or witnesses would not talk, criminal charges could not be filed by the State Attorney's office.
In 2002, police reported that students at the academy alleged that "they had been struck with metal pipes and a wooden paddle as methods of punishment" ["Children Tell Police of Abuse at Victory Forge," Palm Beach Post, June 25, 2002, 4B] When DCF investigators tried to look into the allegations, staff members would not allow the inspector to go inside, despite a court order allowing the agency to enter the home and interview the children .
In 2000, the DCF was on the verge of revoking Victory Forge's state license, but the home surrendered its license without a fight the day a judge was to hear evidence against the facility. The cause of this violation was that officials from the facility left a 17-year old boy at another shelter without advanced notification or arrangements. In addition, the officials allowed a child with a history of sexual offenses to share a bedroom with another boy ["Victory Children's Home Gives Up State License", The Palm Beach Post, March 9, 2001, 1C]
The facility is not licensed by any state or Federal agency. The facility has adamantly refused to obtain a license from the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) [http://www.doh.state.fl.us/] calling it "anti-Christian" [ [http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=PBPB&p_theme=pbpb&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EAF85725F4DEECE&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM Online Archives for Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties -The Final Edition Archives ] ] . The HRS would provide adequate safeguards to protect the children and accountability of public money.
Closing the Legal Loopholes
On June 25, 2008, the Congress passed the "Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008" [ [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c110:1:./temp/~c110TovoGg:: Search Results - THOMAS (Library of Congress) ] ] to address the issues of child abuse in therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness camps, boot camps, and behavior modification facilities. [ [http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/rel062508c.html Press Release: House Approves Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs | Committee on Education and Labor: U.S. House of Representatives ] ] . The bill will make its way to the Senate after the November elections. The legislation forbid facilities from withholding food and shelter, limiting the use of restraints, and barring deceptive marketing techniques. [ [http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/jul/23/boot-camps-need-new-rules/ Editorial: Congress right to propose new rules for boot camps : Editorials : TCPalm ] ] . Congressional investigations uncovered thousands of allegations of abuse, neglect and youth deaths in private teen behavior modification facilities in the United States. Further, "it was found that, as a direct consequence of a fragmented system where state monitoring and regulatory standards vary from state to state in both scope and reach, dehumanizing practices are being used, sometimes even integrated into the programs ‘therapeutic’ milieu." [ [http://youthpolicyactioncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewPage&pageID=686&nodeID=5&ypacif=capwiz%252Ecom%252Fmobilize%252Fissues%252Falert%252F%253Falertid%253D11385551%2526type%253DCO * - Youth Policy Action Center - Send a Message ] ]
The groups which have adamantly supported this legislations include Parents of victims, National mental health organizations, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Children's Residential Centers, American Association of Community Psychiatrists, American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Voices for America's Children. [ [http://edlabor.house.gov/issues/residentialprograms.shtml Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, HR 5876 | Committee on Education and Labor ] ]
The Florida DCF is looking for ways to close legal loopholes and give DCF the authority to offer more protection to children who are abused in private schools. [ [http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/content/opinion/epaper/2008/07/12/a10a_victoryforge_edit_0712.html Private abuse still abuse ] ] The Florida Legislators are also being implored by the DCF and concerned parents to take up such a legislation for teen facilities in the State of Florida.
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