DSHS Facts About Wenatchee Case

The social work staff's level of

professionalism in Wenatchee has never faltered.

Rosie Oreskovich shares facts on Wenatchee case

No matter where I am, either on professional business or as a private citizen, I get asked about what really happened in Wenatchee. My response is "Some children in Wenatchee were sexually abused by their parents, family members and other adults." This conclusion is based on information gathered and cataloged during professional reviews of case files in Wenatchee. I want to share these findings with you, so that DSHS staff can, in turn, share this information with others.

      -Rosie Oreskovich
       Assistant Secretary,
        Children's Administration
      Washington State DSHS

Were children abused in Wenatchee?

There is evidence to support the finding that children were abused in Wenatchee.

Multiple children disclosed being abused by parents, relatives, non-related adults, and other children. The disclosures were made to multiple community professionals, parents, relatives, caregivers, teachers, and medical providers. The children disclosed same/similar information about one another, witnessing the abuse of others and the person/s who abused them. Seventeen families and 38 children were involved in the Wenatchee sex abuse cases.

Why is the term "Sex Ring" used to describe the cases in Wenatchee?

The term "Sex Ring" was coined by the media. The term "Child Sex Ring" is usually defined as one or more offenders simultaneously involved sexually with several child victims.

A more apt description of what occurred in Wenatchee is: During the period of 1994-1995 the Division of Children and Family Services became aware that there were a number of families and children in the Wenatchee area where there were multiple offenders and multiple victims.

What evidence does the department have to support the finding of abuse in Wenatchee?

Multiple children reported that they had been sexually abused. The children have remained consistent in their statements about the abuse, and in many cases medical evidence supports that abuse occurred. The percentage of cases in which there was medical evidence to support abuse is much higher than average.

Who did the children tell?

Children reported their sexual abuse to multiple sources including: child care providers, therapists, educators, foster care providers, friends, neighbors, parents, mental health professionals, relatives, medical professionals etc.

Did any of the children change their statements?

The majority of children have maintained their statements over time. Four of the 38 children did recant what they said about the abuse. Two of these same children would later re-report the same abuse. This is a common occurrence among victims of sexual assault.

Did adults confess to abusing children and were those confessions coerced?

Thirteen adults confessed to five different law enforcement officers. Those confessions contained details of the abuse which were later corroborated by victims, child witnesses and adult witnesses. We found no evidence to indicate that the confessions were coerced.

How many people were convicted?

Seventeen adults pled guilty to sexually abusing children, six adults were found guilty by trial, four cases were dismissed, and three adults were acquitted. Of the 22 convictions, nine cases were appealed. Thus far the appellate court has upheld seven of the nine convictions.

How many of the adults are persons with developmental disabilities?

Five of the 23 adults are persons with developmental disabilities.

Did the allegations of sexual abuse begin with Detective Bob Perez?

Prior to any involvement by Detective Perez, child protective services had received reports of abuse/neglect (1989-1994) on 31 of the 38 children. This represents 13 of the 17 families. The referrals included sexual abuse allegations and two of the adults had been convicted of sexual abuse of their bio-children.

Were children sent to locked facilities for repressed memory therapy?

The Division of Children and Family Services, to my knowledge, has not contracted for repressed memory therapy for any child in this state. The idea of repressed memory has been around for the last 100 years. It was developed by Sigmund Freud as an unconscious mechanism whereby the memory of painful or threatening events becomes inaccessible to the conscious mind as a way of providing relief from traumatic events. Typically this type of therapy involves several stages of treatment where a therapist uses techniques to help a victim remember past abuse. There continues to be quite a debate about this form of treatment.

Were children sent to out-of-state hospitals to coerce reports of sexual abuse?

No children were hospitalized in order to coerce reports of abuse. Between 1993-1995, four of the children in the Wenatchee cases were placed at Pinecrest Hospital for in-patient psychiatric care. The need for the hospitalization was medically determined by local treatment providers and supported by the attending physician at Pinecrest. The children sent to Pinecrest had previously reported abuse.

It is not unusual for Washington to have contracts with treatment facilities in bordering states. Pinecrest is located close to the border in Idaho and is closer for children needing services from eastern Washington. This would be similar to children in Vancouver who are often treated at a facility in Portland, Oregon. In-patient mental health beds for children are limited so all viable resources must be utilized. Pinecrest is a psychiatric accredited facility.

What are the responsibilities of CPS and law enforcement in child abuse cases?

Their responsibilities are very different. The law requires that Child Protective Services investigate reports of alleged abuse and neglect in order to ensure the health and safety of children. At the same time, law enforcement will investigate the same allegations to determine if a crime has been committed.

If CPS determines the child is at risk for abuse and neglect, it will always work with a family and attempt to resolve any identified issues. CPS will sign a voluntary service agreement with families when applicable or ask a juvenile court to assume jurisdiction over care and treatment of the child. The finding of a juvenile as a "dependent" -based on findings of abuse or neglect- is a civil process, where "preponderance of the evidence" is the standard needed for court. This standard is also referred to as "more likely than not."

If law enforcement determines that a crime has been committed, the matter will be referred to the local prosecutor's office, where the decision to proceed with criminal prosecution will be made. In a criminal case, the standard needed to convict is a higher standard than civil cases. Criminal case must be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."

What are the legal safeguards for children and families?

When a case is presented to a juvenile court, an assistant attorney general reviews all information petitioned before the court.

All children involved in the Wenatchee cases were provided with Guardians ad litem, who were all attorneys. In addition, many of the children were assigned an additional GAL to work on behalf of the children. The guardians sole responsibility is to determine what is in the best interest of the child and to make that recommendation to the court. They are independent of all others who are involved in the case.

During juvenile court proceedings, each parent also was assigned counsel. These attorneys were in addition to any criminal attorneys.

In Juvenile Court cases, the judge has the responsibility for making the final decision in a case. In criminal court cases, the judge and/or jury makes the final decision. Thus in both civil and criminal cases there are many levels of legal oversight.

Has the department completed any review of the Wenatchee cases?

There has been several reviews of the cases in Wenatchee with the latest being completed in March, 1998. In March, I asked six DCFS staff, who have experience and training in child sexual assault, to go to Wenatchee and complete a paper review of all the cases. I asked them to be critical in their review of the cases and to report any and all concerns. Staff spent one week reviewing case files, police reports, court documents, confessions, and treatment reports. Upon completion of the review staff provided me with a briefing on their findings. Staff report they found sufficient documentation to support the abuse of the children and services provided. Child interviews were clearly documented and provided a picture of very reasonable and appropriate responses by Child Protective Services to the allegations of child sexual abuse. Records showed that CPS had clearly known the majority of these families for a long period of time due to multiple neglect and abuse issues. Corroborating evidence was contained in files to further support the findings of abuse.

Finally, I want you to know that the social work staff and supervisors who have handled the cases in Wenatchee are experienced and competent. They have maintained a clear focus on their mission to protect children in spite of media attention, intense community oversight, direct and indirect threats made to them and their families, and the increasing emotional needs of all the children involved.

In spite of continuous pressures placed on staff for the last three plus years, they continue to express concern for the safety and well being of the Wenatchee children who have been subjected to countless interviews and evaluations because of criminal and civil litigation. Staff's level of professionalism has never faltered.

Comments may be sent to:

Kathy Spears, DSHS Media Relations

Modified: December 3, 1998
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©1998 Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

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