Saturday, June 22

Recent child sex abuse cases put spotlight on need to keep kids safe

Three people were arrested earlier this week and accused of sexual crimes against children that included posting the alleged acts online. The details are so disturbing that WPTV is not sharing the specifics.

“Sexual abuse has been around forever. The CDC has declared it a public health crisis,” Cherie Benjoseph, director of national outreach and education for the Center for Child Counseling, said.

Benjoseph created the Stay KidSafe! program, which provides sexual abuse prevention and education resources for children in Palm Beach County.

“The world has gotten a lot more complex with social media and AI and all of these issues,” Benjoseph said. “Our children need life skills and they are different than the life skills that we were taught perhaps growing up.”

Matthew and Walquira Cassino and Ryan Londono were arrested this week by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on charges of sexual battery against children.

The probable cause affidavit alleges the acts were posted online and said it went on for five years.

The investigation involves child protection investigators from several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

In a separate case, Ashley Marie Lynch was arrested last week on a charge of “possession of sexual performance by a child” on her lost phone, which was found and discovered by a local bartender.

In a third case in early February, which is also unrelated, Damian Conti, an English teacher at SouthTech Academy, was arrested and accused of committing sexual crimes against one of his underage students.

WPTV spoke to Eileen Turenne, the principal at SouthTech Academy, who could not confirm that Conti is a teacher at the school, but did release this statement:

“SouthTech is cooperating with law enforcement as an investigation is ongoing,” Turenne said. “Beyond that, SouthTech is not commenting at this time.”

WPTV spoke Thursday with Carolina Meza, a therapist with a program in Palm Beach County called SafetyNet, which educates parents and caretakers on how to spot signs of abuse among children.

“Signs that there is abuse is usually anything that disrupts functioning,” Meza said. “There’s this switch. There’s a change in their functioning.”

According to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s statistical analysis center, there were 10,645 forcible sex offenses in Florida in 2020, which is the most recent data available.

The data includes victims of all ages and does not specify prevalence among age groups.

The data also indicates there are currently 2,184 registered sex offenders in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties combined.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Benjoseph told WPTV the Center for Child Counseling is working on planning events to spread awareness about child sex crimes and prevention efforts.

“We’re organizing to provide some open nights where we will provide like a forum for parents to come and let’s talk, how can we keep our kids safe,” Benjoseph said.

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