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July 6, 2004

Rape at drug-treatment center alleged


Sentinel correspondent

WATSONVILLE — A woman who says she was raped at a drug- treatment center has sued Narconon of Northern California and its parent company, Narconon International, alleging she was assaulted by a staff member while undergoing treatment in November 2003.The suit alleges that when notified of the assault, staff at the Watsonville treatment center failed to respond in an appropriate manner and took the unidentified, out- of-state woman out of treatment. The Sentinel is not identifying the plaintiff because of the nature of the crime.In February, the incident was reported to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated and turned it over to the District Attorney’s Office. A decision on whether to prosecute has yet to be made, prosecutor Jeff Rosell said.Due to federal privacy laws, Narconon would not confirm that the woman was in their drug-treatment program. "We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an internal investigation," Narconon President Clark Carr said from the company’s Los Angeles headquarters.Narconon, which has offered drug-treatment programs in California since 1970, is a subsidiary of the Association for Better Living and Education, founded in 1988. The company runs more than 100 rehabilitation and drug-prevention centers worldwide, including three in California.The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for the alleged assault and 15 other charges, including infliction of emotional distress, negligence and breach of contract. If found guilty, punitive damages are awarded based on the wealth of the defendant. Narconon of Northern California and Narconon International reported assets of $1.6 million and $1 million to the IRS in 2002, respectively.

Charge centers on ‘assist’
The suit, filed June 9, alleges a Narconon drug therapist visited the patient’s room at 11 p.m. Nov. 16, 2003, and told her she needed an "assist." While the therapist is included in the suit, he is not identified by name.Narconon practices various types of "assists," a treatment method described in L. Ron Hubbard’s "Scientology Handbook." While Narconon states it is a secular organization, it acknowledges on its Web site that its drug-treatment methods are based on the research and writings of Hubbard, the father of Scientology. According to the book, during a touch assist a therapist will place a finger on the patient and say "feel my finger." The patient then acknowledges the presence of the finger and this allegedly helps release blocked energy. The process continues until the client feels better. According to the Narconon of Northern California Web site, assists are part of a therapeutic processes undertaken to help ease a patient’s mental and physical pains and get the body’s natural healing process operating again. The plaintiff was told to lie down on a massage table. The suit alleges the therapist then rubbed his penis on the woman’s arms and legs. She became upset and told him to "please quit." According to court documents, the woman tried to run away but the therapist caught her and brought her back to the room. She felt ill and vomited several times. The therapist then told her to get back on the massage table, where he allegedly pinned her hands and raped her.The suit also claims the therapist threatened the patient to not report the incident.The woman’s lawyer, Sanford M. Cipinko of San Francisco, had no comment.

Alleged policy violation
According to Carr, Narconon has several policies covering proper patient care and one stipulates that a therapist is not to be in a private space with a patient of the opposite sex at any time.The plaintiff, who paid $15,000 to enter the six-month program, claims she notified Narconon of Northern California Director Dan Manson of the rape. The suit says Manson sent her to a hotel room with another male staffer, and that she did not receive further treatment. After being moved to Narconon’s Placerville facility, then back to the hotel in the Watsonville area, the plaintiff sought to be discharged from the program. Manson said the Watsonville facility is conducting its own investigation but would not say if the therapist accused of the sexual assault is still on staff.During this period, the plaintiff reportedly required medical treatment for contracting chlamydia and refused to sign a release freeing Narconon from any legal claims. She left the program in January of this year.Narconon is certified by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which conducts biennial reviews.Narconon has refrained from submitting its program to voluntary reviews by private accreditation firms, including the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, the nation’s largest health care review system and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Contact Tovin Lapan at tlapan@santacruzsentinel.com.

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