PALM HARBOR, FL. – Attorneys representing a family and their 3-year-old daughter who was reportedly sexually assaulted at the YMCA in Palm Harbor are asking parents to come forward, as they believe more witnesses are out there based on statements made by YMCA employees to law enforcement officials following the alleged attack.
According to a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Court on Thursday, attorneys for the victim and her family say the 3-year-old girl was held down and sexually assaulted by an 11-year-old boy and 7-year-old boy in June of 2019.
Following the incident, while deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office were investigating the allegations, employees of the YMCA made comments to deputies stating that this was not an isolated incident and that the boys had allegedly been reported for previously committing the same nature of offense to another victim in the same YMCA.
“Besides the obvious concern that YMCA employees violated well-known standards of care as a child care facility, they failed in applying their own internal policies as far as grouping and separating children by appropriate age, by allowing a 3-year-old to be left alone with an 11-year old and a 7-year-old. It is all the more egregious that employees working that day were aware of at least one previous incident of inappropriate sexual behavior involving the two aggressors,” said Josh Drechsel, founder of Josh Firm in St. Petersburg and one of the attorneys representing the victim.
The 32-count complaint filed against the YMCA and two employees is seeking damages for emotional and physical harm sustained by the victim and her family.
Attorneys for the victim are now looking for any parents of children who had similar trauma at the YMCA in Palm Harbor and any additional witnesses. According to Drechsel, behavior like this by children is indicative of potential further abuse.
“Statistically speaking, we know children this age don’t typically behave this way unless they have been victims of abuse themselves in some fashion,” said Drechsel. “Regardless, this incident is unacceptable. It is vital that parents open dialogue with their children about sexual abuse whether it occurred from the subject YMCA or elsewhere. We know trauma such as this can be suppressed for many years, if not decades. Our goal is to help prevent something like this from happening again, while helping victims, including our clients, to be heard and getting organizations such as the YMCA to recognize that changes are necessary.”
Drechsel, who has partnered on the case with St. Petersburg attorney Peter Andrews, is encouraging parents of potential victims, former employees or anyone with pertinent information to step forward.
Those with knowledge about similar incidents at the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA in Palm Harbor are encouraged to contact YMCAabuse@gmail.com.