Stikkordarkiv: #MinnesotaUSA

1997 Oct 09: USA: EF: USA vs. Johnson

This case began in 1993 when a Norwegian student arrived in California. You can read the conclusion at the very end of this summary.

U.S. v. JOHNSON NO. 96-10575.

132 F.3d 1279 (1997)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Mark E. JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted October 9, 1997.
Decided December 29, 1997.
Roger T. Nuttall, Nuttall Berman Attorneys, Fresno, California, for defendant-appellant.
Jonathan B. Conklin, Assistant United States Attorney, Fresno, California, for plaintiff-appellee.
Before: HUG, Chief Judge, and WALLACE and HALL, Circuit Judges.
CYNTHIAHOLCOMB HALL, Circuit Judge:Mark E. Johnson appeals his conviction and sentence for two counts of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activityin violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). Johnson also appeals the district court’s restitution order following his guilty plea on one count of fraudin connection with access devices,in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1), and one count of wire fraud,in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343.The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3231, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On August 13, 1993, Johnson contacted Rena Dankin, a regional coordinator for the Education Foundation, about serving as a host parent for a foreign exchange student. He told Dankin that he was interested in hosting a «Nordic boy» and arranged to have a seventeen-year-old Norwegian student, who was originally to have been placed in Minnesota, assigned to his California home. The Education Foundation informed the minor of the change in destination the night before he was to leave Norway, and he revised his travel plans accordingly.

The Norwegian minor arrived in the United States on August 17, 1993. He testified that less than one week after moving into Johnson’s home, Johnson started discussing sexual matters with him. Approximately oneweek later, the talk turned to homosexual matters. The sexual nature of Johnson’s conduct soon became physical, advancing over several weeks from a back rub to mutual masturbation to oral copulation to sodomy. Johnson told the minor not to discuss their sexual contact with anyone. In October 1993, the minor transferred to a new host family. Police later contacted the minor in the course of investigating a computer crime case in which Johnson was allegedly involved, and the minor told police what had transpired between himself and Johnson.

Johnson was indicted on July 20, 1995, and charged in a 115 count indictment. Counts one and two, which were severed from the rest, charged transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). The other 113 counts charged fraud in connection with access devices, wire fraud, and fraud and related activities in connection with computers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029(a)(1), 1343, and 1030(a)(6)(A), respectively. These charges arose from Johnson’s alleged use of fictitious names and credit card numbers to gain access to the Prodigy computer network and to order goods and services therefrom.

Johnson was convicted on the § 2423(a) counts following a four-day jury trial. In exchange for Johnson’s plea of guilty to one count of fraud in connection with access devices and one count of wire fraud, the government dismissed the other 111 counts. Johnson was sentenced to two concurrent terms of fifty-seven months in custody and to thirty-six months supervised release, and ordered to pay $5,408.58 in restitution to Prodigy Services, Inc. and a $200.00 special assessment.

DISCUSSION

I

The first issue on appeal concerns whether the district court erred in admitting prior bad act evidence at Johnson’s trial on the § 2423(a) charges. Two witnesses testified about sexual contact in which Johnson had engaged them approximately thirteen years earlier, when each witness was in his teens. We review for abuse of discretion the district court’s decision to admit this evidence of prior bad conduct. See United States v. Hinton, 31 F.3d 817, 822 (9th Cir. 1994); United States v. Arambula-Ruiz, 987 F.2d 599, 602 (9th Cir.1993).

Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence precludes the admission of prior bad act evidence offered only to show criminal propensity. So long as the evidence is offered for a proper purpose, such as to prove intent, the district court is accorded wide discretion in deciding whether to admit the evidence, and the test for admissibility is one of relevance. See Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 687-88, 108 S.Ct. 1496, 1499-500, 99 L.Ed.2d 771 (1988); United States v. Hadley, 918 F.2d 848, 850 (9th Cir.1990). To be probative of something other than criminal propensity, the prior bad act evidence must: (1) prove a material element of the crime currently charged; (2) show similarity between the past and charged conduct; (3) be based on sufficient evidence; and (4) not be too remote in time. Hinton, 31 F.3d at 822. Once relevance is established, the district court should admit the evidence unless its prejudicial impact substantially outweighs its probative value. See United States v. Boise, 916 F.2d 497, 502-03 (9th Cir.1990).

Here all four Rule 404(b) criteria are satisfied. Intent is plainly an element of transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity under 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), and the testimony of both prior bad act witnesses was relevant to prove Johnson’s intent to engage in unlawful sexual activity with the Norwegian minor.1 Johnson does not dispute the relevance of the testimony for this purpose but instead argues that the intent required by § 2423(a) is intent to transport, not intent to engage in illegal sexual conduct. This argument is belied by the language of § 2423(a), which speaks of transporting a minor «with intent that such individual engage in … any sexualactivity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.»

The second Rule 404(b) criterion, which requires sufficient similarity between the past conduct and the conduct charged, is also satisfied. Johnson’s past conduct need not be identical to the conduct charged, but instead need only be similar enough to be probative of intent. See United States v. DeSalvo, 41 F.3d 505, 509-10 (9th Cir.1994); United States v. Hernandez-Miranda, 601 F.2d 1104, 1108-09 (9th Cir.1979). The first prior bad act witness testified that when he was in his early teens, Johnson invited him into his home and tried to seduce him into engaging in consensual sexual activity-advancing from a back rub to masturbation to an attempt to lure the minor boy into bed. The second witness testified about a series of conversations he had with Johnson when the witness was a teenager, progressing from a few «random conversations» about girlfriends to Johnson’s graphic descriptions of orgies he had attended. Johnson invited the witness to these orgies on several occasions and described the conduct in which he would be expected to engage with men and women.

The fact that the progression of sexual activity between Johnson and the first witness occurred over the course of a single afternoon, as opposed to a period of several weeks with the Norwegian minor, and that Johnson’s sexual contact with the second witness never became physical does not negate the probative value of the evidence. Indeed, an expert testified that Johnson’s conduct toward the witnesses was simply a less sophisticated form of «shaping and grooming» than that in which Johnson engaged the Norwegian minor.2 Thus, the past acts about which the witnesses testified, although not identical to the crime charged, were sufficiently similar to be probative of Johnson’s intent under Rule 404(b). See Hadley, 918 F.2d at 851.

The prior bad act testimony was also supported by sufficient evidence, thus satisfying the third Rule 404(b) criterion. «[S]imilar act evidence is relevant … if the jury can reasonably conclude that the act occurred and that the defendant was the actor.» Huddleston, 485 U.S. at 689, 108 S.Ct. at 1500. This reliability threshold is not a high one, and the testimony of a single witness can be sufficient. See Hinton, 31 F.3d at 823 («[W]e are not persuaded that where a witness testifies as to the defendant’s prior bad acts, the jury must be presented with evidence corroborating the witness’ testimony to satisfy the `low threshold required by [this] part … of the test.'») (quoting United States v. Houser, 929 F.2d 1369, 1373 (9th Cir.1990)). The witnesses’ testimony concerning Johnson’s sexual advances amounted to more than unsubstantiated innuendo, see Huddleston, 485 U.S. at 689, 108 S.Ct. at 1500, and the trial judge properly concluded that the jury could reasonably find by a preponderance of the evidence that the prior acts had occurred.

The fourth Rule 404(b) criterion is also satisfied notwithstanding the thirteen or more years that had elapsed since the events about which the witnesses testified. This court has not identified a particular number of years after which past conduct becomes too remote. See Hadley, 918 F.2d at 851. Rather, «[d]epending upon the theory of admissibility and the similarity of the acts … some remote acts may be extremely probative and relevant.» United States v. Spillone, 879 F.2d 514, 519 (9th Cir.1989). The prior act evidence in this case is sufficiently similar to the charged conduct to render it probative despite the passage of time.

Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the probative value of the prior act evidence was not substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Although the district court explicitly referenced Rule 403 in ruling on the admissibility of only one witness’ testimony, «[t]he district court … is not required to recite Rule 403 for the record.» United States v. Jackson, 84 F.3d 1154, 1159 (9th Cir.),cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 445, 136 L.Ed.2d 341 (1996). The record establishes that the court properly weighed Rule 403’s requirements with respect to thetestimony of both prior act witnesses and thus did not abuse its discretion in admitting the prior act evidence.

II

Johnson contends that the government presented insufficient evidence to support his § 2423(a) conviction. The proper inquiry is «whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, anyrational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.»Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2788, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). The record contains a wealth of evidence from which the trier of fact could reasonably infer that Johnson caused the transport of the Norwegian minor with the intent of engaging in criminal sexual activity. See United States v. Kaplan,554 F.2d 958, 964 (9th Cir.1977) («An inference of criminal intent can be drawn from circumstantial evidence.»).

Johnson’s conduct commencing immediately after the Norwegian minor’s arrival in his home strongly supports a finding of criminal intent. The minor testified that, within the first week of his arrival, Johnson was discussing personal sexual matters with him. Within another week, Johnson started discussing homosexual sex with the minor. A short time later, Johnson engaged the minor in acts of mutual masturbation, followed by acts of oral copulation and sodomy. Numerous inconsistencies in Johnson’s application to serve as a host parent, including misrepresentations about whether his children resided with him, further support a finding of criminal intent. Finally, an expert testified that Johnson’s conduct indicated a sophisticated «grooming» process that does not arise spontaneously.

When the prior bad act testimony is factored in, there can be little doubt the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson intended to engage in criminal sexual activity with the Norwegian minor at the time he applied to be a host parent.

III

Johnson also contends that the indictment and jury instructions improperly identified the elements required for a conviction under § 2423(a).3 Counts one and two of the indictment charged that Johnson «transported, and caused to be transported» a minor in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual activity. In addition to reading the indictment to the jury, the trial judge directed the jury to find Johnson guilty if the jury determined that Johnson had «transported or caused to be transported a minor from Norway to Fresno.» Johnson contends that «causing» the transport of a minor cannot satisfy the transport element of § 2423(a).

Because Johnson did not move to dismiss the indictment or object to the jury instructions and, in fact, submitted his own proposed jury instructions that included «causing» language, our review is for plain error.See United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 732-36, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 1776-78, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993);United States v. Perez, 116 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir.1997) (en banc) (even invited errors reviewed for plain error). Because we hold that the indictment and jury instructions properly identified the elements of a conviction under § 2423(a), we do not advance beyond the first prong of the Supreme Court’s plain error analysis. See Olano, 507 U.S. at 732-36, 113 S.Ct. at 1776-78 (setting out four-part plain error inquiry).

Prior to 1986, a defendant could be charged under § 2423 if he «knowingly persuade[d], induce[d], entice[d], or coerce[d] any woman or girl who has not attained her eighteenth birthday» to travel in interstate commerce «to engage in prostitution, debauchery or other immoral practice.» In addition to extending the statute to minor boys and modernizing the statute in other ways, Congress, in 1986, replaced the persuasion,inducement, enticement, and coercion language with simple «transport» of a minor in interstate commerce. The legislative history of the amendments makes clear, however, that the modernization was not intended to restrict potential criminal liability under § 2423. See 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5952, 5958.

Indeed, the legislative history expressly indicates that the persuasion and inducement language could be eliminated because such acts were covered by 18 U.S.C. § 2(b), which provides that «[w]hoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.» Thus, a defendant can be convicted as an aider and abettor even if he causes an innocent intermediary who lacks criminal intent to commit the ultimate offense, see United States v. Laurins, 857 F.2d 529, 535 (9th Cir.1988), and even if the indictment does not specifically charge him with aiding and abetting. See United States v. Canon, 993 F.2d 1439, 1442 (9th Cir.1993).

Several circuits have held that a «causing» or «inducing» element cannot be read into § 2421, which makes it a crime to «knowingly transport[ ] any individual in interstate or foreign commerce … with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.» 18 U.S.C. § 2421; see United States v. Sabatino, 943 F.2d 94, 98-100 (1st Cir.1991);United States v. Jones, 909 F.2d 533, 539-41 (D.C.Cir.1990). Although § 2421 is phrased in similar terms to § 2423, § 2421 has a companion statute in § 2422, which criminalizes knowing persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of an individual to travel in interstate commerce to engage in criminal sexual activity. See 18 U.S.C. § 2422. Other circuits have therefore held that § 2422 would be redundant if § 2421 were read to include causing transport. See, e.g., Jones, 909 F.2d at 540. We do not need to decide this issue, however.

Section 2423, which applies only to the interstate transport of minors and imposes stiffer penalties than either § 2421 or § 2422, lacks such a companion statute. Moreover, unlike § 2421, § 2423 did contain persuasion and inducement language before 1986. Because the 1986 amendments were not intended to restrict criminal liability under § 2423, one who causes the transport of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity can still be charged under § 2423 as read in conjunction with § 2(b). Thus, it is enough that Johnson caused the Norwegian minor’s transport and possessed the requisite intent to engage in unlawful sexual conduct even if the entity carrying out the transport-be it the Education Foundation or the minor himself-lacked criminal intent.

IV

The district court increased Johnson’s offense by two levels pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3A1.1 due to the Norwegian minor’s vulnerability. Section 3A1.1 provides: «If the defendant knew or should have known that a victim of the offense was unusually vulnerable due to age, physical or mental condition, or that a victim was otherwise particularly susceptible to the criminal conduct, increase by 2 levels.» We review factual findings in sentencing for clear error. See United States v. Shrestha, 86 F.3d 935, 938 (9th Cir.1996). The district court did not clearly err in finding the Norwegian minor «vulnerable» under the Guidelines and making the upward departure.

This court has recognized that the «otherwise particularly susceptible» language requires the sentencing court «to consider factors beyond the victim’s age, physical and mental condition. The sentencing court must consider the characteristics of the defendant’s chosen victim, the victim’s reaction to the criminal conduct, and the circumstances surrounding the criminal act.» United States v. Peters, 962 F.2d 1410, 1417 (9th Cir.1992). It is not necessary that the defendant target the victim because of his vulnerability; rather, it is enough that the defendant knew or should have known the victim was vulnerable. See United States v. O’Brien, 50 F.3d 751, 755 (9th Cir.1995).

The Norwegian minor was seventeen years old when he traveled from a small town in Southern Norway to the United States. He testified that, while he was living with Johnson, he had no family or friends that he knewin Fresno. Johnson told the minor that his sexual advances were ordinary for a host parent. And Johnson warned the minor not to tell anybody about their sexual contact.

Johnson points out that the minor was sexually experienced, knew representatives from the Education Foundation and had friends at the high school he attended in Fresno, and called home to Norway on several occasions. However, none of this alters the fact that the minor had been in the country for only a few weeks when the adult responsible for his care and well-being initiated a series of sexual advances. There can be little doubt that the minor was a vulnerable victim and that Johnson was aware of his vulnerability at the time he committed the charged offenses.

V

After Johnson’s conviction on the § 2423(a) counts, he entered a guilty plea on one count of fraud in connection with access devices and one count of wire fraud. The district court entered a restitution order requiring him to pay restitution in the amount of $5,408.58-the total loss incurred by Prodigy on all 113 counts of fraud. Johnson argues that the court erred in requiring him to pay restitution on all the remaining counts, even those which had been dismissed as part of the plea agreement, rather than simply the loss incurred relative to the two counts to which he pled guilty. We review the amount of a restitution order for abuse of discretion, provided that it is within the bounds of the statutory framework. See United States v. Pappadopoulos, 64 F.3d 522, 530 (9th Cir. 1995).

The court’s authority to order restitution in this case arises from the Victim and Witness Protection Act («VWPA»), 18 U.S.C. §§ 3663-64. The VWPA allows the district court, when sentencing a defendant under Title 18 of the United States Code, to order that the defendant «make restitution to any victim of such offense.» 18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(1). Johnson’s convictions on one count of fraud in connection with access devices and one count of wire fraud arose under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029(a)(1) and 1343, respectively.

Johnson argues that the court violated Hughey v. United States, 495 U.S. 411, 110 S.Ct. 1979, 109 L.Ed.2d 408 (1990), by ordering him to pay restitution to Prodigy for losses related to all counts of the indictment. In Hughey, the Supreme Court established the rule that «the loss caused by the conduct underlying the offense of conviction establishes the outer limits of a restitution order» under the VWPA. Id.at 420, 110 S.Ct. at 1984. A plea agreement thus operates to limit the acts for which a court may require a defendant to pay restitution. Id. at 421, 110 S.Ct. at 1985.4 In United States v. Sharp, 941 F.2d 811 (9th Cir.1991), this court read Hughey to limit restitution even where the offense of conviction involved a scheme to defraud as an element of the offense. Id. at 814-15.

After Hughey was decided, however, Congress amended the VWPA.5 Under the amended statute, «when someone is convicted of a crime that includes a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity as an element of the offense, the court can order restitution for losses resulting from any conduct that was part of the scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity.» United States v. Reed, 80 F.3d 1419, 1423 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 211, 136 L.Ed.2d 145 (1996). The amended statute was designed in part to overrule Hughey and thus supersedes Sharp insofar as the offense of conviction includes a scheme to defraud asan element of the offense. Id.; see also United States v. Rutgard, 116 F.3d 1270, 1294 (9th Cir.1997) («After the amendment, restitution may be ordered for losses to persons harmed in the course of the defendant’s scheme even beyond the counts of conviction.»); United States v. Hensley, 91 F.3d 274, 276-77 (1st Cir.1996) (holding that under amended VWPA, defendant can be required to pay restitution for losses related to entire mail fraud scheme even where convicted for only one mailing).

Under the wire fraud statute, «[w]hoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud,» sends a wire transmission «for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice» is subject to criminal liability. 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Because the offense includes a scheme to defraud as an element of the offense and the plea agreement described in detail the method and duration of Johnson’s scheme to defraud Prodigy, the court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Johnson to pay restitution for all losses arising from this scheme. See Reed, 80 F.3d at 1423.6 Moreover, because all of Prodigy’s losses arose from Johnson’s fraudulent scheme, the court did not abuse its discretion in holding Johnson liable under the VWPA for the full extent of Prodigy’s losses.

CONCLUSION

We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the prior act evidence under Rule 404(b) and that Johnson’s conviction is supported by sufficient evidence. We also hold that the indictment and jury instructions properly identified the elements required for a conviction under § 2423(a). Finally, we conclude that the district court did not err in making an upward adjustment for the Norwegian minor’s vulnerability under the Guidelines or abuse its discretion in ordering Johnson to pay restitution for all of the losses incurred by Prodigy as a consequence of his scheme to defraud the computer network.

AFFIRMED.

FOOTNOTES

1. The California Penal Code criminalizes acts of oral copulation and sodomy with a minor. Cal.Penal Code §§ 286(b)(1), 288a.

2. «Shaping and grooming» describes the process of cultivating trust with a victim and gradually introducing sexual behaviors until reaching the point of intercourse.

3. Section 2423(a) provides: A person who knowingly transports any individual under the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce … with intent that such individual engage in … any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.18 U.S.C. § 2423(a).

4. In United States v. Soderling, 970 F.2d 529 (9th Cir.1992), the court recognized an exception from this rule where the plea agreement specifies that the defendant will pay restitution for offenses other than those on which there is a conviction. Id. at 532-33. This exception does not apply here as Johnson’s plea agreement included no provision preserving Johnson’s responsibility to pay restitution for the charges dismissed under the agreement.

5. The amended VWPA provides that for purposes of restitution, a victim of an offense «that involves as an element a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity» includes «any person directly harmed by the defendant’s criminal conduct in the course of the scheme, conspiracy, or pattern.» 18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(2).

6. Although the offense of fraud in connection with access devices, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1), does not require as an element of the offense any scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity, Johnson’s fraudulent access to Prodigy was an essential aspect of his wire fraud scheme as defined in the plea agreement. Thus, the court properly awarded Prodigy restitution for losses associated with Johnson’s fraudulent access to the network.

Reklamer

Vanlige problemer: Truet med å bli sendt hjem om familien kontaktes

L.R. skriver:
Dette er begynnelsen på det værste året i mitt liv!! Jeg satt alene i huset hele første helga jeg kom hit uten en lyd fra familien. Jeg følte  meg så alene og forlatt i et ukjent land så  langt hjemmefra. Jeg var ensom og savnet hjemmet mitt og foreldrene mine. Jeg trodde  jeg kunne klare dette og hadde ingen aning om hva mer som ventet meg…
Jeg har vært her i fem uker og en halv nå men har ikke opplevd  annet en problemer depresjoner og nedtrykkelsse. Familien lot meg ikke negang dra til byen for å kjøpe varmere klær nå som det begynner og bli kaldt her oppe i Minnesota. Jeg ender mest  sannsynlig med å dra hjem. Nå har jeg kun opplevd at EF lyver og sender ut trussler, de er ikkesamarbeidsvillige, de har kaldt meg stygge ting og lovet ting de ikke holder. De har truet meg utallige  ganger om at hvis jeg kontakter venner og familie noe mer må jeg  reise hjem!! Jeg hater EF
Hei jeg bare sie til dere som planlegger ett år i USA,  fort dere å søk  med et annet, enten AFS eller YFU, ADRI skriv under noe men EF det  blir bare problemer, jeg er i USA nå og ender opp med å dra  hjem. Jeg har fått trusler og de har lyvi til meg, sagt stygge ting til meg og blåser i hvordan jeg har det. dette er en advaring mot alle dere, men dere velger selv, jeg også tenkte ja pytt pytt, selv i alle disse skrekkhistoriene jeg leste før jeg dro med EF reiste  jeg alikevel, Angrer noe så grusomt !!!!

2009: USA: Oppfølgeren til Mitt amerikanske mareritt (Espen Hansen)

These stories keep popping up. Both in the Minneapolis Star Tribune we’ve read about it and we are reading about it today from the Associated Press. And the list is just incredible.  The number of children who are being placed as foreign exchange students in homes that have not been really vetted or the people are taking money from the children. Getting a bad impression of what is going on in the uh United States. I don’t like that. I don’t like that — I like people who visit, especially these young people, come away thinking yeah, this is the greatest country in the world. I’m a… I’m a patriot along those lines. Jim Gelbmann is the Deputy Secretary of State. A bill is awaiting approval here in Minnesota that would investigate and terminate registrations of organizations that don’t meet uh standards set by the State. Mr. Gelbmann, welcome to the program.
GELBMANN: Thank you very much, Don, it’s a great pleasure to be on your program and I am very interested in talking about the subject. It’s one near and dear to my heart as well.

SHELBY: Good. How did it become near and dear to your heart, Jim?

GELBMANN: I actually one night I received a phone call from a parent in the Norwood Young America area. Ah, somehow she got my cell phone number. And, well, didn’t have any resources at my hand, but she was very fran –frantic, she was not only a parent, she was a teacher at Norwood Young America, and she told me a story about a specific uh, boy, who was from – or young adult I should say, who was from Norway, and um, was having a horrible experience in a foreign exchange program, a specific foreign exchange program. The boy was initially placed in one home that… after I did some research and checking, the Norwood, — The Carver County Sheriff Department, one of the deputies there said that the home that this boy was placed in, in the family was in dire final trouble and the home was in disrepair and he did not feel it was a home that was suitable for placement of a foreign exchange student. Ah, the boy was taken out of that home and then taken to one of the coordinators houses uh for the specific program, and which is actually against US law; for a coordinator to actually host a foreign exchange student that she is a coordinator for. Uh, the more I investigated, the more concerned I became abut this specific organization. And I found out that this was not an isolated incident that this appeared to be a systemic problem with a number of school districts. Um, I received complaints from a number of Wright – Wright County school districts, Montecello, uh, Waverly, um… Buffalo I know has terminated their involvement with this specific program and I started to look to see what we could do about it. Um, and at that time when I look at Minnesota law, the law and I’ll read it to you said, «The Secretary of State may upon receipt of a complaint regarding an international student exchange organization, report the matter to the organization involved, the United States Information Agency or the Council on Standards for International Education Travel as the Secretary of State as considers appropriate.

SHELBY: — only — only requiring the Secretary of State to report, — but take no action —

GELBMANN: … and it’s not required to report, it just says may report.

SHELBY: May report, we have to be careful about this shall report and may report are two different things entirely. So it looks like somebody along the line in the state legislature had come up with an idea or whether it was the Secretary of State that promulgated a resolution that got into the state legislature that someone had some concerns, but it appears that without your help and without the help of the legislature now, that there is no affirmative action that could be taken by the Secretary of State. Uh, what do you hope to accomplish? What would the Secretary of State do if they run into situations like you have discovered not only this one case, but the many others that have come to your attention since then? And let me just for the record, is it CETUSA is this organization? —

GELBMANN: That is correct.

SHELBY: Ok, alright. And I just want to make sure that people understand what CETUSA is, if you hear from them for instance. It’s the Council for Educational Travel USA, the Council for Educational Travel USA, and currently these people have our eyebrows raised about what there are going on and whether there are home visits and whether these individuals who are taking on foreign exchange students are actually fit to do so. What would your legislation produce?

GELBMANN: Well, Don, actually, I have some very good news. We did bring the legislation, that was Mark Ritchie, who brought the legislation after my initial investigations finding that this issue was more systemic than it was an isolated incident. We brought it to the legislature and it was very late in the legislative session, it was passed all committee deadlines and the like, but I talked to Representative Phyllis Kahn and told her about the problem. I showed her a letter that I received from a foreign exchange student, a different foreign exchange student who actually was experiencing sexual abuse by her uh family that she was initially placed with who at least in her opinion it was sex abuse. And Phyllis Kahn was willing to place it in what what was called a State Government Omnibus Bill. Language that would, first of all have had to first of all, o change the name of the report the United States Information Agency no longer exists –

SHELBY: Right, the USIA is gone.

GELBMANN: That is correct. It is the — the responsibilities have been transferred to the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the United States Department of State, so we had to change that reference. But then the most important change we received is we received the language that says that the Secretary may also investigate complaints received under this section to determine if the complaint is limited to one high school or if there are systematic problems with placements made by a particular organization. The Secretary of State may terminate and organization’s registration —

SHELBY: There you go –

GELBMANN: — if the Secretary determines the organization has failed to remain in compliance with local, state and federal statutes, rules and regulations.

SHELBY: How soon will you take advantage of this once it is completely signed, sealed and delivered — to take action?

GELBMANN: Well, it became effective July 1.

SHELBY: Signed by the Governor?

GELBMANN: Signed by the Governor.

SHELBY: Alright, good, so, now how many agents do you have to hire to try to get all of this done?

GELBMANN: Well, as you know, we are in a budget crises.

SHELBY: I do know that —

GELBMANN: Unfortunately, we weren’t given any additional funds to take this out and carry this legislation out. But I assured the legislature in front of the committee, I said, even if I have to work over time I don’t want people leaving Minnesota going back to their home country with a negative impression of our state —

SHELBY: You and I agree –

GELBMANN: — Or, worse yet, horrible experience you know within our state I want them to go back and talk about the wonderful experience they had. I wrote back to this one foreign exchange student that wrote this letter to me and I… you know, I said to her I said this should have been the best year of your life, the best year of your educational life I was would hope would have been in Minnesota would have been your high school senior year, and I really regret it and I was very apologetic that it was not the best year of her life. It was uh, traumatic year for her. And I didn’t want that to happen again. And, so, um, again, I’m working right now with CETUSA. Um, one part of the problem, if we totally revoke their license, there’s a lot of foreign exchange students that have made plans through CETUSA to come to Minnesota um, I just want to make sure…I use this legislation more as a club than actually revoking registrations.

SHELBY: Understood. You’re a good man, Jim Gelbmann. Jim Gelbmann is Deputy Secretary of State and he has worked tirelessly to try to get the state to change its regulations, policies and laws regarding the foreign exchange student program in the state of Minnesota. And there has been a company CETUSA, C-E-T-U-S-A and you may see that from time to time you might even get some queries from the Council for Educational Travel USA. Back in the day when I was in high school, there was nothing more fabulous than foreign exchange students coming in an bring their knowledge of their own country and telling us about that and then learning about America and helping us teach. And then I’ve run into some of them in later years and they would say it was the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life. Here in Minnesota, we are the host to lots of them because we’re a very open state and we want to be a part of that process but it doesn’t always turn out well because the companies that are looking for these families apparently, apparently, are not doing a very good job of screening them, we’ve got lists, and lists and lists if you’ve been listening to the program, we’re talking about sex abuse, we talking pornography, we talking about convicts, we’re talking about taking of money from these individuals, that is not the kind of impression that I as an American want to leave on a young person, or any person whatsoever who comes to our country to visit and then goes back home and says they never want to go back to that place again; they’re terrible, terrible people Jim Gelbmann and I agree on that sort of soft element of that legislation. The hard element of course is making sure that these companies don’t have a right to operate if they’re not doing it right in this state of Minnesota. The good news is that Jim has told us, it has been signed by the Governor which is now a matter of law in the state of Minnesota. As you looked around, you said you began investigating one case, but then you soon realized there were a lot more cases out there. Can you talk about a few of those?

GELBAMANN: Sure, Don. Probably the most common problem that happened with the CETUSA organization in multiple high schools throughout the state is that they would bring more students over to Minnesota than they had families to place them in. And, again, that is against the federal regulations, as well. Federal law requires the organization to have us signed contract with a host family one month before the student arrives in the States. And what would regularly happen is CETUSA would have three or four host families signed up for a specific school and five or six students would be bought over, and then CETUSA would frantically search for host families for the students. In one case that was documented actually WCCO TV a number of years ago, I think back in 2006 um, one CETUSA organization uh, uh, coordinator had six students student living in her basement, had six foreign exchange students living in her basement because she couldn’t find host families for them —

SHELBY: And that is violation of law –

GELBMANN: And that is a violation of law right then and there.

SHELBY: Okay now, let me ask you, do the host families, are they paid by CETUSA?

GELBMANN: No, they are not. They are volunteer families that want to you know, bring in a student give a student a good opportunity to see what America is like and also for the host families the to learn about the culture that the, of the country that the student comes from.

SHELBY: I am sometimes given to overstate hyperbally, but this seems to be that that all the money is ending up in CETUSA’s hands, their dumping these kids without uh, doing the due diligence of finding good families that are willing to take them. And I’m willing to call this human trafficking. Some people have called it, as we just talked to Danielle Grijalva, Grijalva, the director and founder of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, who said it’s, one senator called it a Puppy Mill. And, uh, is there any action can be taken other than regulatory uh, against these companies when they are found to have failed in their process, is this misfeasants, malfeasants or is it nonfeasants?

GELBMANN: Uh, again, I’m not an attorney so I wouldn’t know which category it falls into, but what I do know is that Minnesota now has the authority that if they violate state, federal or local law, and there’s very explicit federal laws governing how foreign exchange programs work, if they violate those laws, we have the authority to revoke their registration. And in Minnesota, if uh, a foreign exchange program is not registered with

the Secretary of State’s office, the Department of Education will not pay the per student aide uh, formula to that school district. So, basically, it will end their involvement with Minnesota school districts in Minnesota because Minnesota school districts again will need that additional aide when they accept these students from around the world.

SHELBY: I think I know my audience well enough to say that I speak for them in this particular case, to say, go ’em Jim Gelbmann. Don’t let ’em get away with this and protect our reputation and protect the children. And uh, thank you for fighting for this legislation, and I appreciate you being on the program with us today, Jim.

GELBMANN: Well, thank you, Don. And I assure you that uh this issue is very close and near and dear to my heart —

SHELBY: — I know it is.

GELBMANN: — and I’m going to take uh the responsibility that the legislature has given us very seriously.

SHELBY: I appreciate it, Jim, thank you very much for being with us.    GELBMANN: Thank you, Don.

SHELBY: Okay, bye bye, Jim Gelbmann, Deputy to the Secretary of State.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: http://podcast.830wcco.com/wcco/1853421.mp3

2009 May 17: USA: When a foreign exchange year goes bad

A foreign exchange student’s complaints over living conditions he encountered with a host family in Norwood Young America have prompted a state investigation that could lead to new legislation to safeguard visiting students.

After the Norwegian student complained that he had lent his host family $1,000 for groceries and their son’s acting classes, he was sent back to Norway in March for unspecified rules violations by the exchange organization that brought him here . Now, he’ll have to repeat his senior year there.

The incident spurred Minnesota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann to investigate problems reported by other exchange students visiting Minnesota. He subsequently called on lawmakers to expand the state’s authority to oversee foreign exchange programs.

The California-based Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), which placed the student in the Norwood Young America home, is defending its practices in the face of reports of poor living arrangements for some of its foreign high school students, including some who arrived in Minnesota without host families lined up.

«It took me a while to realize this wasn’t an isolated incident,» Gelbmann said of the Norwood case. «The problems are systemic throughout the CETUSA organization.»

A Minnesota House and Senate conference committee has agreed to language in a bill that would allow the secretary of state to investigate and terminate registrations of organizations that don’t meet standards set by the state. It is now awaiting approval as part of a state finance bill.

Borrowing trouble?

While staying in Norwood, Espen Hansen lent his host parents at least $500 for groceries and $500 for their son’s acting classes.

«The mother was nice to Espen, but CETUSA shouldn’t have placed him there,» Marianne Hansen, Espen’s mother, said in a telephone interview. «I started sending him money» to make sure he had enough to eat.

A reporter’s calls to the host family were notreturned.

Hansen said she requested a new host family for her son. Months later, Espen was moved to the home of Joann Kilmer, regional coordinator for CETUSA, briefly before being returned to Norway.

Another Norwood parent began making inquiries about Espen’s predicament, and that’s when the secretary of state’s office got involved. When Gelbmann began contacting some of the 37 other Minnesota schools where CETUSA has placed students, he found more reports of problems encountered by students.

While some of the schools had no complaints, the majority of those contacted had concerns, citing limited communication between the school and CETUSA prior to the students’ placement, and less-than-ideal conditions with some host families, Gelbmann said.

He said it appeared that CETUSA was not visiting host families’ homes prior to students’ arrival, as required by federal law. Kelli Hanson, a «host mom» for another CETUSA student placed in Norwood, took in a second student whose first placement didn’t work out. Even though federal law requires coordinators to «maintain, at minimum, a monthly schedule of personal contact with the student and host family,» nobody from CETUSA ever checked on the new student, she said.

In interviews with CETUSA, the agency was not able to provide the Star Tribune with documentation that home visits were in fact occurring.

Some schools drop out

As a result of such concerns, Buffalo High School has ended its relationship with CETUSA.

In a March 31 e-mail sent to Gelbmann, Rick Toso, then Buffalo’s interim principal, wrote: «Our counseling department recalled … frustratingly poor communication from [CETUSA] coordinators, especially when there were concerns that we deemed serious,» including «inappropriate home placements [that] were not resolved; last-minute demands on placements after the school year started; [and] pushing placements with little information available on the arriving student.»

Other schools that reported concerns were in Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Cokato, Monticello and Aitkin. Blaine reported a positive experience.

«I’m convinced they have problems,» Gelbmann said of CETUSA. «A number of school districts are no longer dealing with them. That obviously says something.»

CETUSA defends itself

CETUSA officials say problems occasionally arise with student placements, but that its system is not flawed.

«With the economic crisis, a lot of families experience some very difficult times … and we have cancellations as a result,» said CETUSA CEO Rick Anaya. During orientation, exchange students are advised against lending money to host parents, he said.

«CETUSA enjoys one of the best reputations in the industry,» Anaya said. The U.S. State Department lists it as the 14th largest of 92 designated secondary student exchange sponsors operating in the United States.

Officials at the Norwood school Espen attended said they had had a positive relationship with CETUSA up until this year, taking about a dozen students a year. But they remain concerned about how Espen’s case was handled.

«CETUSA has never come forward with any hard facts as to why Espen was sent home,» said Ron Brand, principal of Norwood’s Central High. «I supported him staying. I found him to be a very good representative of his country. He was a gentleman and a good student.» Brand said the school is still reviewing whether to work with CETUSA in the future.

CETUSA would not provide the Star Tribune with an explanation for its decision to send Espen home. But the U.S. State Department, which conducted its own investigation, said «it was determined that the student was terminated for breaking sponsor program rules,» a spokeswoman said.

Espen and his mother said he had been threatened in October with expulsion from the program when he was caught drinking. But he was given another chance and did not drink again, he said.

CETUSA’s Anaya said, «We gave him a chance and there was a second violation,» but he would not say what it was.

Gelbmann said he wants the state to be able to act in such a case to make sure rules governing exchange programs are followed.

«Our objective is to approach CETUSA and say, ‘We now have the authority to terminate your registration. However, we’d like to work with you to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.’ »

But nothing is likely to happen in time to keep Espen from repeating his senior year.

He tried to return to finish his school year in Norwood after making private arrangements to stay with another family. But he was turned away by customs agents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on April 13 because he lacked the proper visa — CETUSA had canceled his original visa and a new visa he had obtained was not the one he needed. After back-to-back 16-hour flights, he arrived back in Norway. «I was so tired,» he said, and «I felt like a criminal.»

«I’d hoped to experience something new,» he said. «I thought living in America would be fun and positive. I made a lot of friends. But it didn’t end up how I’d planned.»

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715

———————————————————

2009: USA: EF/CETUSA – Oppfølgeren til Mitt amerikanske mareritt (Espen Hansen)

2012: Mitt amerikanske mareritt (Espen Hansen)

Problemer: Bytte familie, dyreavføring, lite mat

Aftenposten skriver i 2012 en artikkel om Espen Hansens historie i USA. Journalist Elisabeth Randsborg skriver som følger:

Det første han husker, er lukten. Lukten av møkk og avfall. Av hunder, som gjorde fra seg innendørs. Av katten, som romsterte rundt på kjøkkenbenken. Lukten av et tett toalett – dusjforhenget, som var grodd fast i badekaret.

– Jeg har aldri sett noe så møkkete i hele mitt liv.

Espen Hansen, nå 20 år gammel, beskriver førsteinntrykket den dagen han kom til sin vertsfamilie som utvekslingsstudent til USA høsten 2007. Han er én av drøyt 1300 norske 16-åringer som hvert år velger å ta andre videregående skoleår i utlandet. Espen var full av forventning. Han hadde forberedt seg godt i tiden før avreise, men var overhodet ikke klar for det som møtte ham hos vertsfamilien i den lille byen Norwood Young America i Minnesota.

  • Familien hadde hatt en utvekslingsstudent før meg, en jente fra Brasil, og hun sendte meg meldinger på Facebook og prøvde å advare meg. Da jeg kom dit, skjønte jeg at jeg burde tatt de advarslene på alvor. I begynnelsen gikk det greit, og jeg forsøkte å venne meg til hygienen i huset. Jeg er en person som ikke klager mye, så jeg forsøkte å gjøre det beste ut av det. Men det viste seg fort at det var mer enn skitt og rot som plaget denne familien.

De var en familie på fire. Mor og far, en datter på 14 og en sønn på 12. Barna fikk unngjelde for foreldrenes krangling og ekteskapsproblemer, farens aggressivitet og mishandling. De søkte trøst og fortrolighet hos Espen, og han syntes synd på barna.

Derfor fortalte han ikke så mye til foreldrene hjemme i Norge. Derfor brukte han penger – mange hundre dollar – for å kjøpe mat og spe på familiens slunkne kjøleskap. Vertsmoren betrodde seg til ham. Fortalte om familiens vanskelige økonomi. Om sine egne ønsker om å forlate mannen. Om mannens trusler om å drepe både henne og barna hvis hun forsøkte.

– Han var ustabil og oppfarende. Han kjeftet og truet, men han slo meg aldri. Han beskyldte vertsmoren min for å ha et forhold til meg, og da ble jeg for alvor redd og urolig og turde ikke bo der lenger.

Nå var også Espens foreldre hjemme i Norge klar over vanskelighetene. De kontaktet EF Highschool Year, organisasjonen som sendte Espen til USA, for at de skulle finne en ny vertsfamilie til ham, men ingen ting skjedde.

Koordinator

Når utvekslingsstudentene lander i USA, er det ofte en amerikansk partnerorganisasjon som overtar ansvaret for studentene. Det er disse amerikanske organisasjonene som har rekruttert vertsfamiliene, og som har ansvaret for å sjekke at familiene er egnet til å ha en utvekslingsstudent boende hos seg et helt år. Det er også de amerikanske organisasjonene som skal oppnevne en lokal koordinator for hver enkelt student – en koordinator, som skal følge opp studenten og være til støtte og hjelp hvis det dukker opp problemer. Denne personen er studentens myndighetsperson så lenge USA-oppholdet varer.

  • Utvekslingsbransjen er en milliardindustri – det er snakk om store penger – og det er en industri preget av grådighet. De lokale koordinatorene får betalt for hver student de klarer å plassere. På grunn av de økonomiske nedgangstidene kommer det flere studenter til USA enn organisasjonene klarer å skaffe gode vertsfamilier til. Derfor hender det at de lokale koordinatorene overtaler venner og bekjente – til og med betaler dem penger, noe de ikke har lov til – for at de skal bli vertsfamilier for utvekslingsstudenter. Når det oppstår problemer, er disse koordinatorene mer opptatt av å beskytte seg selv og sine venner og bekjente enn å hjelpe studentene. Denne bransjen mangler integritet, sier Danielle Grijalva til Aftenposten.

Hun leder en frivillig organisasjon – Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES) – som arbeider for å hjelpe studenter som opplever problemer under sitt utvekslingsopphold i USA. Danielle Grijalva arbeidet selv i utvekslingsbransjen før hun etablerte CSFES i 2004.

  • Jeg så mange ting jeg ikke likte. Studenter som ble seksuelt misbrukt, tatt bilder av, servert alkohol og tvunget til å se porno. Dette ville jeg gjøre noe med. Nå er vi 1700 personer verden over som arbeider for utvekslingsstudentenes sikkerhet, og for å gjøre myndighetene både her i USA og i hjemlandene klar over hva som foregår.

Bare i løpet av det siste året er CSFES kontaktet av 10–12 norske utvekslingsstudenter i USA som trenger hjelp.

Husarrest

Situasjonen hjemme hos Espen Hansens vertsfamilie eskalerte, og han fikk lov til å bo hos en lærer på skolen der han gikk. – De to beste ukene av hele USA-oppholdet.

Men så dukket hans lokale koordinator opp – en person han ikke hadde sett mye til tidligere.

  • Hun forlangte at jeg skulle bli med henne, hjem til henne og mannen hennes. De holdt meg i husarrest i et rom i kjelleren i to døgn. Forhørte meg, tok mobilen min, fjernet bilder på kameraet mitt, gikk gjennom alle tingene mine. Jeg hadde gjemt unna min norske mobil, så jeg fikk ringt hjem og fortalt hva som skjedde, Moren til en amerikansk venn av meg kontaktet politiet, og de dukket opp. Etter å ha snakket med koordinatoren min, forlot politiet huset og sa: «Sorry, you’re on your own». Da ble jeg skikkelig redd.

Espens mor hadde i mellomtiden funnet frem til Danielle Grijalva og hennes organisasjon CSFES på nettet. Hun kunne fortelle at det hadde vært flere episoder med denne koordinatoren tidligere, og at det var registrert 72 politianmeldelser mot den vertsfamilien Espen var plassert hos. På ny ble politiet kontaktet, og denne gangen tok de med seg Espen, kjørte ham til et hemmelig sted og innlemmet ham i sitt spesielle vitnebeskyttelsesprogram. Også det lokale barnevernet ble koblet inn.

Etter tre dager trakk både barnevern og politi seg tilbake. Det var ikke mer de kunne gjøre. Espen var igjene overlatt til koordinatoren, sin myndighetsperson.

Koordinatoren kom med nye trusler og ville tvinge Espen på et fly tilbake til Norge, og på ny ble Espen tatt hånd om av politiet og innlemmet i deres vitnebeskyttelsesprogram.

  • Da var jeg så nedkjørt at jeg bare ville hjem til Norge.

Som å spille Lotto

I mars 2008 – åtte måneder etter at han dro til USA – kom en psykisk nedbrutt Espen tilbake til hjemlandet. Han led av dyp depresjon og sosial angst. Var innesluttet og holdt seg for seg selv. Foreldrene hans ønsket å gå til søksmål mot EF Highschool Year, men droppet det av hensyn til Espens helsetilstand. Han har fått hjelp av psykolog, og nå – fire år etter – er han på bena igjen og i gang med ny utdannelse.

  • Jeg vet at mange har fine opplevelser som utvekslingsstudenter. Men å melde seg på utveksling er som å spille Lotto – du kan enten være veldig heldig eller veldig uheldig, men du vet aldri hva du utsetter deg for. Det er et svært dårlig samarbeid mellom de norske organisasjonene og de amerikanske samarbeidspartnerne i den andre enden. Det er ingen kontroll, alt dreier seg bare om penger. Oppstår det problemer, så sender de deg bare hjem, og det er altfor dårlig kontroll av vertsfamiliene. Hvorfor plukker de ut familier som ikke kan ta vare på seg selv en gang, langt mindre en utvekslingsstudent?

Én av hundre anmeldt

Den britiske, nå pensjonerte politimannen Chris Gould vet mye om vertsfamilier som ikke duger. I mange år ledet han Child Protection-enheten hos politiet i Avon og Somerset, og i 1998 etterforsket han en 12 år gammel spansk utvekslingselev som ble seksuelt misbrukt av sin vertsfar, som viste seg å være en kjent seksualforbryter i Storbritannia. Siden den gang har han arbeidet for utvekslingsstudenters ve og vel og leder nå interesseorganisasjonen Child-Safe International.

  • I løpet av 12 måneder undersøkte jeg 2000 saker der utvekslingsstudenter var blitt utsatt for overgrep, sex, omsorgssvikt og mishandling. Kun 20 tilfeller – bare én prosent – var blitt anmeldt, så det er en stor grad av underrapportering i disse sakene. Dette er en bransje styrt av store penger, og mange av organisasjonene burde stenges. Det finnes pedofile som aktivt samarbeider med noen av dem. Myndighetene vet lite om hva som foregår, og når jeg snakker med dem, virker de ikke spesielt interessert. De stikker hodet i sanden og orker ikke ta i dette. Men velgerne burde være bekymret over at politikerne viser så liten interesse, sier Gould til Aftenposten.

Mange historier

Espen Hansen er ikke den eneste norske studenten som har hatt negative opplevelser i USA. Et kjapt søk på nettet og det hagler med historier. Én av dem tilhører Mari Cecilie Berland. Også hun reiste ut som 16-åring med EF Highschool Year høsten 2007, for å bo hos det hun trodde skulle være en familie med fire barn. Men den nedslitte boligen i Nebraska huset i tillegg fire hunder, en annen utvekslingsstudent, to fosterbarn, en venninne av vertsmor og hennes sønn. Dessuten var vertsmor dagmamma for opp til ti barn under tre år.

  • Vi var til enhver tid mellom 12 og 20 mennesker i det huset. Det var som å bo på et barnehjem, sier Mari Cecilie.

Hun måtte dele bad med syv andre og fikk tildelt dusjtid kl. 05 om morgenen. Det var dårlig med mat, de måtte spise og studere sittende på gulvet. Hun gråt, ba om hjelp, men følte seg neglisjert og fikk mye kjeft. Ba om å få bytte familie, men uten resultat. Også her viste det seg at koordinatoren var en nær venn av vertsfamilien. Da en psykolog ga Mari Cecilie diagnosen dyp depresjon og foreslo antidepressiva og sovepiller, bestemte hun og foreldrene at det var tid for å returnere til Norge.

  • Det verste var at EF ikke tok noe ansvar eller fulgte meg opp. De reklamerer med at de tar ansvar 24 timer i døgnet – det var derfor jeg valgte dem. Men når noe skjer, er de ikke der. Når du er 16 år og befinner deg alene på den andre siden av kloden og andre personer har myndighet over deg, da føler du deg ikke veldig høy i hatten. Jeg vil ikke advare andre mot et utvekslingsår i USA, men jeg vil advare mot EF. Man bør være veldig nøye når man velger hvilken organisasjon man reiser ut med.

Hun har blogget om sine USA-opplevelser, og hun har fått mange reaksjoner fra andre som også har dårlige erfaringer. Hennes far, Arild Berland, dannet en gruppe på Facebook for andre som også hadde negative erfaringer med EF.

  • Veldig mange har tatt kontakt med oss, og problemene er særlig knyttet til vertsfamiliene og vanskeligheter med å få byttet familie. Det er for mange som har negative opplevelser, og det verste er at vi får ingen unnskyldning en gang. EF beklager at jeg opplevde det slik, men de beklager ikke det som skjedde, sier Mari Cecilie.

Forlik

Mange av studentene som har negative opplevelser, forsøker å få erstatning og oppreisning når de kommer hjem. Vilde Strøm er én av dem. Hun dro til USA i august 2009. Etter knapt fire døgn hos sin vertsfamilie i Michigan var politiet tilkalt og Vilde ble reddet ut av en fjern, amerikansk slektning. Det var fire døgn med trusler, krangling, neglisjering og bråk. En arbeidsløs vertsfar og dårlig økonomi i en sosialt vanskeligstilt familie. En koordinator, som viste seg å være nær venn av familien, og som truet med å kidnappe henne. Og en psykisk syk sønn i huset, som selv vertsmor advarte henne mot.

«Jeg tror ikke han vil prøve seg på noe seksuelt, men ta godt vare på verdisakene dine», sa vertsmoren til Vilde.

Foreldrene i Norge mobiliserte. Kontaktet organisasjonen Vilde hadde reist ut med, uten resultat. Kontaktet den norske ambassaden i Washington, CSFES og en fjern slektning i Chicago, med resultat, og etter mye om og men kom Vilde tilbake til Norge.

– I begynnelsen hadde jeg ofte mareritt – jeg var redd for at de skulle spore meg opp. Selv nå får jeg støkk hver gang jeg reiser bort, for jeg er redd jeg ikke skal komme hjem igjen. Jeg føler meg som en 50-åring og er redd for å dø, forteller 19 år gamle Vilde.

Hun har fått profesjonell hjelp til å takle angsten, og til sommeren skal hun gjenoppta utdannelsen.

Vildes foreldre inngikk et forlik med organisasjonen som hadde sendte henne til USA. Mot en kompensasjon på snaut 40 000 kroner forpliktet Vilde og foreldrene seg til ikke å omtale episoden og navngi organisasjonen.

Må på banen

  • Men jeg vil appellere til norske politikere om å våkne opp og se hva som foregår. De må opprette et kontrollorgan og få på plass lover som kan regulere dette, og de må sørge for at også de amerikanske partnerorganisasjonene blir grundig kontrollert. Det er mye snusk med vertsfamiliene.
  • Jeg vil sterkt oppfordre alle som vil reise ut, til å vurdere nøye hvilken organisasjon de reiser med. Og foreldrene bør alliere seg med noen i vertslandet som kan være verge for barnet mens det er ute. Man er 16 år og føler seg voksen og klar for dette, men USA er virkelig langt unna når man er alene.

CSFES og Danielle Grijalva liker dårlig at familiene inngår forlik med organisasjonene.

– Det bidrar bare til å feie dette problemet under teppet, man selger på en måte sjelen sin til djevelen ved å holde munn om hva barna er blitt utsatt for. Vi trenger søkelys på det jeg vil beskrive som et klart mønster av utnyttelse. Studentene er overlatt til organisasjonenes og vertsfamiliens forgodtbefinnende fra den dagen de lander i USA, sier Grijalva.

Avviser at EF er versting

EF Highschool Year er den største aktøren på det norske markedet og sender flere hundre studenter til USA hvert år. Nøyaktig hvor mange, vil de ikke opplyse om. Landansvarlig for EF i Norge, Morten Davidsen, tilbakeviser at organisasjonen er noen versting.

  • Vårt slagord er å gi studentene «the best time of your life», det er det vi jobber for hver dag. Et utenlandsopphold byr på mange førstegangsopplevelser for studentene. Noen takler det lett, andre kan få det tøffere. De fleste er fornøyd, men det hender vi har noen tilfeller der det blir utfordringer, sier Davidsen.

– Hva slags problemer?

  • Jeg vil ikke kommentere konkrete saker, men de tilfellene der det har vært vanskeligheter, er saker som har involvert våre samarbeidsorganisasjoner i USA. Vi har hørt at det kan ha vært lokale representanter som har vært for nært knyttet til vertsfamiliene, og det kan være manglende rutiner for hvordan man følger opp studentene og vertsfamiliene. Derfor har vi besluttet at vi fra og med i år kutter ut samarbeidet med våre samarbeidsorganisasjoner i USA og vil stå for hele prosessen selv. Det blir EF hele veien, og da blir det lettere for oss å følge opp hvis det oppstår problemer.