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‘Escort Service’ or Legalized Abduction?

ASSOCIATED PRESS

For a few hundred dollars, parents pushed to the edge by teens’ defiant and destructive behavior can hire “escorts” to rouse their children in the middle of the night and haul them away--in handcuffs if needed.

Such “teen escort services” are part of a growing industry that offers to turn troubled teens around by taking them out of familiar surroundings and putting them in a strictly ordered program where they earn freedom by improving their behavior and attitudes.

The escorts are a “last-resort option” for parents who expect their son or daughter will not go willingly, said Ron Del Aguila, business coordinator of one such company, Adolescent Services International.

The St. George, Utah-based business transports three to four teens each month to any of seven schools affiliated with the World Wide Assn. of Specialty Programs. Not counting travel costs, escort fees range from $600 to $1,200--the higher charges for teens who put up a struggle.

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Logan Doil fell into the latter category.

The slender young runaway from Anchorage, Alaska, was sent home after he was caught shoplifting food. The next morning, an escort team showed up in his bedroom.

When the men tried to carry him out, Logan grabbed a table, then elbowed one man in the face, he says. They dropped him, put him in handcuffs and led him away.

Logan wound up in Western Samoa, where he spent 18 months before moving to Casa by the Sea in Ensenada a few months ago.

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Saying he has turned his life around since being put in the program, the 18-year-old says he now understands why he was treated so forcefully when he fought to avoid leaving his life of drugs.

“I elbowed the guy in the face. Of course they’re going to restrain me,” he says.

Del Aguila said escorts typically show up in the middle of the night because teens will be disoriented and less likely to struggle. Handcuffs are used if necessary--often at parents’ request.

Del Aguila said escorts try to calm teens by talking to them about their problems and what to expect at the programs where they will be sent. By the time they reach the airport, the teens usually have relaxed enough that they rarely struggle, he said.

The escort teams carry notarized permission from parents legally authorizing them to transport the minor.

The business has become the focus of criticism--and pending legislation.

Dion Aroner, a California state assemblywoman, proposed in February that the services be banned from using coercion and force on adolescents and that they be required to register with state officials.

“Shackling kids and taking them in the middle of the night is really pretty astonishing considering that inmates--people who have committed serious crimes--have more rights than these kids do,” said Eleanor Moses, a spokeswoman for Aroner.

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Karr Farnsworth, president of the World Wide Assn. of Specialty Programs, said critics are overreacting. “I don’t know any kid who’s ever had a lasting trauma from that,” he said.

Blair Woodside, a Washington attorney, doesn’t agree. He said his daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend was taken away by one of the teams, only to escape near the Mexican border and be recaptured.

“That’s got to have a traumatic effect on kids,” Woodside said.

“My question over and over is, how is it there are so many laws in this country that prevent parents from abusing children, yet somehow when you contract with someone else they’re allowed to do things that would constitute abuse otherwise?”


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