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Rape conviction in Utah underscores risks at programs for troubled teens in Montana

From the Troubled kids, troubled system series
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A former therapist at a private teen treatment program near Kalispell was convicted in 2018 of repeatedly raping a 16-year-old girl he was caring for in one-on-one sessions at a program in Utah.

Jason Calder pleaded guilty in Utah District Court to four felonies, including rape, object rape, forcible sexual abuse and obstructing justice. As part of the plea agreement, 12 sexual assault-related charges were dismissed, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in January 2018.

Authorities opened the case after the girl disclosed the abuses to another therapist.

Calder worked seven years as a therapist at Summit Preparatory School near Kalispell, and only worked with boys, Rick Johnson, founder and director of development at Summit told the Missoulian on Thursday. He said no complaints were ever leveled against Calder in Montana; his background check came back clean and no previous employers raised any flags in reference calls before he began working there in 2007. Calder left the school in 2014 for a job with a higher position at a program in Utah, Johnson said.

“We were actually very surprised, very appalled, and I was just saddened by all the clients that he worked with that maybe he had been inappropriate with,” Johnson said in a phone interview.

Had the abuses happened in Montana, the 16-year-old girl’s allegations may not have led to prosecution.

Since October, a private teen treatment program near Thompson Falls has been sued three times by families alleging program administrators at Reflections Academy failed to protect their daughters from grooming and subsequent sexual relationships with an employee there. Sanders County prosecutors told the Missoulian in December they declined to press charges against Chaffin Pullan because the girls’ ages were above the age of consent.

Johnson said Monday that, while he hasn’t seen the details of the proposal, he supports a bill currently moving through the Legislature to make it a crime for therapists, licensed or unlicensed, to engage in sexual relationships with residents at private residential treatment programs in Montana.

“Certainly any therapist that has sex with a client should be held criminally responsible for that behavior,” he said. “That almost has the flavor of incest. It makes you sick to your stomach to think about it.”

The bill, HB 282, carried by Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, has passed approval of the House and will next be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Johnson said Summit employs training with all employees to eliminate any potentially suggestive behavior, completes reference checks and conducts background checks for all employees.


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