Nonprofit group protests institutionalized child abuse in Utah

Institutionalized abuse survivors meet to protest alleged abuse in Utah schools. The survivors are a part of the nonprofit group called Breaking Code Silence, which is woking to eliminate abuse. (Megan Brugger)

Volunteers and survivors from Breaking Code Silence met Sept. 29 in front of the Provo Historic Courthouse to protest institutional child abuse.

Breaking Code Silence is a nonprofit organization that represents youth, children and adults who have been incarcerated in the U.S. troubled teen industry. According to Breaking Code Silence, this industry is “a network of privately-owned, powerfully punitive and often wilderness-based therapy programs, residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, group homes, boot camps and faith-based academies.”

Breaking Code Silence was specifically protesting two medical neglect incidents and a child’s death at Maple Lake Academy, located west of Spanish Fork.

The Utah Department of Human Services revoked the boarding school’s license earlier this year.

Chief information security officer of Breaking Code Silence Jesse Jensen said there is a rampant problem of abuse in the troubled teen industry, especially at Maple Lake Academy, and that justice has not been served.

Breaking Code Silence leaders Bobby Cook (left) and Jesse Jensen (right) protest Maple Lake Academy. Maple Lake Academy allegedly neglected the medical needs of two children, one child dying under their care. (Megan Brugger)

According to Jensen, Maple Lake Academy was granted an appellate hearing set for Aug. 15 to determine whether they could get their license back, but the hearing was vacated. Breaking Code Silence attempted to contact the Department of Human Services during this time to submit facility reports indicative of Maple Lake’s pattern of abuse but did not receive a response in time for the hearing.

On the day of the hearing, Jensen said, the department “abandoned their pursuit of anything against Maple Lake Academy.” Instead, they put in place a corrective action plan, reinstated their license and essentially walked away.

“Justice was not done,” Jensen said. “We believe children at Maple Lake Academy are in danger and have been in danger and will continue to be.”

Breaking Code Silence is asking the governor and Utah’s legislators to reopen that investigation, admit their evidence into the investigation and revoke Maple Lakes’ license permanently.

Chief operating officer and executive director of Breaking Code Silence Bobby Cook agreed and said one of their goals is to move the state of Utah to provide more protections for children and provide them the adequate medical care, food and help they need.

“We’re calling on DHS to reopen this investigation, as well as Governor Cox, so we can further protect the children at Maple Lake Academy and see this pattern of abuse stop,” Cook said.

Jordyn Krauss, a Maple Lake survivor, flew in from Detroit for the protest. Krauss got emotional as they recalled the experience — they felt they could relate to and connect with the allegedly neglected child.

“This girl was neglected under a program that says they will protect us, that they’ll help us integrate ourselves into social situations in society. They don’t help with that,” Krauss said. “I’m not surprised that they neglected this child’s medical care — what I’m surprised by is that they neglected it so long she passed away.”

According to their volunteers, Breaking Code Silence is demanding change.

“We can’t continue to let this happen to children, and I think it should be a wake-up call for a lot of people — it should have been a long time ago — but this behavior needs to be stopped,” Krauss said.

Krauss attended Maple Lake Academy 2018-20 and claimed they were ostracized and treated as an outcast during this time. Krauss said they experienced verbal attacks and criticism.

“For me, the breaking point was definitely when they made me not talk for two months. Like, they forbade me from talking to anyone in the community — whether it be students or staff — unless I was spoken to by my therapist,” Krauss said.

Krauss remembered the recreational therapist at the academy swearing at students and calling them slurs, in addition to physical aggression.

“They call it tough love and for a while — I was trying to justify that. I wanted so badly to believe her actions showed she cared about us, but it just didn’t feel that way,” Krauss said.

Krauss feels Maple Lake Academy silenced and manipulated them and hopes the academy will be shut down.

“We can’t continue to let this happen. It’s been happening for so long and it needs to stop,” they said.

While Maple Lake Academy is a current focus, Breaking Code Silence leadership said the abuse is happening all over the U.S., and Utah seems to be an epicenter.

“For most of this group, everyone is tied to Utah in some way. My program was tied in Georgia, but it had implications that directly involved Utah. That’s why we’re out here fighting for all this as well,” Cook said.

Cook said he hopes those who go to work at these facilities be made aware of the issue at large: that these institutions do not operate how they are advertised.

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