Politics & Other Mistakes: Heads in the sand – or the shower

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Dillon Bates has a surname less suited to politics than to a remake of a classic Hitchcock horror movie. And, it appears, proclivities to match.

Until Aug. 20, Bates was a Democratic state representative from Westbrook. He resigned that post nearly a month after The Bollard magazine published an in-depth report filled with evidence that Bates was a sexual predator. (In the interest of full disclosure, I used to write for The Bollard, and its editor and the article’s author, Chris Busby, remains a friend.)

Before the story broke, Bates, 30, worked as a teacher, coach and theater director at several local schools and organizations. According to The Bollard, he used those positions to groom at least three female students for romantic or sexual relationships. He denies this charge, and none of the students has so far been willing to speak about them on the record, so he’s not facing any criminal complaints. But the level of detail in the story lends a lot of credence to these accusations.

Bates had previously announced he wasn’t running for re-election this year, but his resignation email indicates he somehow doesn’t believe his political career is finished. He wrote that he intends to clear his name, after which he looks “forward to finding ways to serve (his) community, state and country in the future.”

Maybe he could open a motel.

In any case, I’m less concerned with what comes next for Bates than how an elected official was able to get away with these reprehensible activities for months without someone in authority taking some kind of corrective action. We may never know how many girls or young women were put at risk by the failure of school officials, legislative leaders and the news media to publicly acknowledge what was going on.

While the students didn’t want their names used, they and others did make some attempts to hold him accountable. After Bates suddenly resigned his position at the now-closed Maine Girls Academy in Portland last November, three people called the state hotline for reporting child abuse to alert investigators to their concerns about him. Nevertheless, he continued to coach boys track at Massabesic High School in Waterboro and, until The Bollard story appeared, was scheduled to coach girls and boys cross country in the current school year.

Whatever the state did about those three complaints is confidential, which protects future victims not at all. And if there’s some informal network among school administrators to quietly pass on warnings about sexual predators, it didn’t function well in this case, since there’s every indication Bates would still be coaching if The Bollard’s deep dive into the rumors had never seen print.

At least one of Bates’ students also told her story to the Portland Press Herald, which published exactly nothing – until after The Bollard piece appeared. (More disclosure: The Forecaster, American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly are owned by Reade Brower, the owner of the Press Herald.) After The Bollard’s expose, the Press Herald included this excuse in one of its stories:

“The Press Herald has been investigating the allegations for months but did not have people willing to speak on the record or official documentation of complaints to support publication of a story.”

Translation: We were too afraid of a lawsuit to publish something that might have protected other students from being harmed.

The newspaper did ask Bates about the allegations back in March, but he denied everything, so naturally, the story was shelved.

University presidents, sporting-association administrators and Catholic bishops get fired and even prosecuted for covering up sexual assaults. Newspapers can just shrug off such negligence.

Likewise, legislative leadership did squat. When Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport heard rumors about Bates earlier this year, she had her staff confront him. But after he denied he’d done anything wrong, the matter was dropped. House Republicans also got wind of the allegations, but once they were told of Bates’ denial, they, too, took a pass on further investigation. Of course, that didn’t stop the GOP from complaining after The Bollard’s story appeared that Democrats had failed to act.

With the exception of that magazine, nobody comes out of this looking good. And the lack of public reflection by these various institutions on what they did wrong and how they might correct it makes me doubt any lessons have been learned.

Except this one: Before showering, lock all your doors and windows.

Go psycho by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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