By Jennifer Kraus
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Thousands of parents depend on the YMCA's Fun Company program to watch their kids before school and after.
But one mother says the YMCA and Metro Schools failed to protect her six-year-old daughter from repeated sexual assaults. And, now, the mother fears her daughter may not be the only victim.
At a place where her daughter was supposed to be safe, Jeaninne Blackwell said her six-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted repeatedly, at first, by another six-year-old girl and then later, a second one joined in.
Blackwell told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "The other child would be the sex charger -- that was her term. She would be the one instructing what activities they would be doing to each other."
There was kissing, touching, and penetration.
"The sense that I got from her was that it wasn't just kids playing around, that it was something that she had to participate in and it was against her will," Blackwell shared.
She said it started at the YMCA's Fun Company last summer and then continued into the school year at Hull Jackson Elementary. Blackwell said when her daughter finally told her what had been going on, she contacted the school principal.
"And the first thing she said to me was, 'This isn't going to be any comfort to you, but I get these kinds of calls more often than you think.' And it blew me away that she said that."
Attorney Gary Blackburn now represents Blackwell and her daughter.
He told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "Mrs. Blackwell was concerned that she wasn't being taken seriously."
The Blackwells are now suing both Metro and the YMCA. Their lawsuit claims Metro was "deliberately indifferent" to the mother's initial complaints about the abuse. The suit goes on to say that, once Metro and the Y both knew about the allegations, they "failed to protect (Blackwell's daughter) from further sexual abuse."
Gary Blackburn says, "When you have two girls who sexually abuse and penetrate another six year old over a long period of time repetitively with bullying associated with it, it's not just playing doctor."
According to the lawsuit, Blackwell had asked the school and the YMCA to keep the girls separated, but says they didn't and the abuse continued.
"If an adult had perpetrated this, something would have been done immediately," Blackwell said.
Rachel Freeman with the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville said, "I think as adults, it's harder for us to look at two young children of the same age and say, 'Oh, that's sexual abuse.'"
But Freeman added that anytime there's unwanted sexual contact, it's abuse, and unwanted sexual penetration is assault, even when it's between kids this young.
"We don't want to think that can happen. But, it does," she said.
Freeman said it's crucial to address it in order to stop the cycle. If the problem is ignored, she said, it often grows and you can wind up with more victims.
Attorney Gary Blackburn said, in this case, that may have already happened.
"We've been told that one of the abusing children had experienced this before in the prior school year."
Jeaninne Blackwell said, "Not addressing this puts other kids at risk."
She added that no child should have to go through what her daughter has which is why she's now chosen to speak out.
"If I go away quietly, it paves the way for this to keep happening."
Both the Y and Metro Schools declined our requests for interviews citing the lawsuit. But a Metro schools spokesperson said in a statement "We have reviewed the facts and believe all appropriate steps were taken. We expect the court to agree with us when all the facts are heard." The Y also gave a statement which says, ""We took immediate steps to address the situation. Our primary concern is the safety of the children in our programs and we remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure that our programs are safe and caring places for kids in our community."
Jeaninne Blackwell said her daughter was having so much trouble going to school that she pulled her out and home schooled her for a while. She just recently moved with her daughter to another state where she's hoping they can get a fresh start.
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