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Grads Leave but Aren't Forgotten : Study Tracks How Incest Victims Fare Outside Center

March 28, 1986|MARIE MONTGOMERY | Times Staff Writer

Slim, pretty, 17-year-old Anne lay on a bed in her new home and chatted about her nomination for Girl of the Month at school, her boyfriend and sewing, her favorite hobby.

"I'm making chocolate-covered strawberries for (my boyfriend) tonight," she said, smiling as she tried to wheedle her new guardian, Kay Sovia, into driving her to the supermarket.

Not long ago, family scenes were very different for Anne (not her real name). When she lived with her real mother, Anne's stepfather molested her repeatedly.

Anne reported the abuse, first to her mother and then to authorities. But her stepfather denied it, and Anne's mother supported him, so police could not arrest him. Like many child abuse victims whose parents cannot be prosecuted because of lack of evidence, Anne was taken from her home by the court after counselors determined that she had been molested. She wound up at the Olive Crest incest treatment center's Garden Grove group home with five other girls whom she now regards as her sisters.

Her new "parents" are Kay and Ray Sovia, who have run the group home for about 18 months and who regard the girls as daughters. Pictures of Olive Crest graduates and current residents--most of whom come from Orange County homes--line the walls and overflow on the dresser of their cramped bedroom/office.

Their large, well-kept, four-bedroom, two-story home is on a quiet, middle-class residential street. The Sovias, who each raised large families of their own before they were married seven years ago in Michigan, live in the house full time. (A substitute house parent supervises the girls every other weekend, when the Sovias travel in their motor home.)

As in most programs of this kind, Olive Crest's responsibility for its charges ends when they turn 18. But Donald Verleur, founder of the 130-bed, 11-home program paid for by government grants and private donations, recently decided Olive Crest should look beyond the group homes to make sure the trauma of incest doesn't come back to haunt Anne and other Olive Crest graduates after they leave.

With the help of Cal State Fullerton professors Marlene De Rios and Gangadharappa Nanjundappa, Verleur started a follow-up study of Olive Crest graduates last fall. The study is the first of its kind in the county, according to Verleur.

The study is being conducted through a questionnaire, which is sent to each graduate six months after she leaves the program to find out how she has adjusted. All girls must leave Olive Crest when they turn 18, and in most cases they cannot return to their families, so many graduates are living independently when they respond to the questionnaire.

"The main purpose of the study is to see how well graduates have adjusted to working and taking care of themselves," said Nanjundappa. The sociology professor will sift through the data and draw conclusions about Olive Crest's effectiveness in preparing its graduates for everyday life.

Nanjundappa hopes to have a sampling of more than 100 Olive Crest graduates within a year so he can begin his evaluation. Olive Crest now has 30 to 40 completed questionnaires, but Nanjundappa says the study's progress has been hampered by a lack of money.

Research Money Sought

De Rios, an anthropology professor, said the group has applied to the United Way for research money but probably won't receive the grant for four or five months if the application is approved. If money becomes available, Olive Crest will continue the study indefinitely, Verleur said.

Until then, the professors are relying on the Olive Crest Auxiliary volunteers they have trained to administer the questionnaire.

"We're really putting ourselves on the line with this," De Rios said, explaining that the study could uncover some negative effects of Olive Crest's treatment program.

Among the questions in the survey are: Have you contacted your parents or house parents since leaving? How would you rate your job satisfaction? Have you been incarcerated since leaving Olive Crest? Have you used alcohol, marijuana, PCP, cocaine or other drugs? Have you obtained further education and, if so, what kind?

All information gained from the study is confidential; respondents do not put their names on the questionnaire, Verleur said.

In addition to measuring the effectiveness of the Olive Crest program, the study also will include questions to help determine whether there's a relationship between the child's family background and her subsequent abuse or molestation, Nanjundappa said. He hopes the study will help target types of households in which abuse is likely to occur. Child abuse prevention organizations can then use this information to identify and help high-risk families.

Already-Established Link

De Rios pointed to an already-established link between drug and alcohol abusers and child molesters. The researchers hope to find additional links through the study so that incestuous and other abusive relationships can be prevented.

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