“It is imperative that we… work to rebuild, innovate, and expand [STD] prevention in the U.S.,” Dr. Leandro Mena, director of the Division of STD Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a speech Monday at a medical conference on sexually transmitted diseases, the Associated Press reported.
Solutions include home test kits for some STDs that will make it easier for people to learn they are infected and to take steps to prevent spreading it to others, said Mena.
But Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said a core part of efforts must be to increase condom use.
“It’s pretty simple. More sexually transmitted infections occur when people are having more unprotected sex,” Saag said.
The monkeypox outbreak has added another layer of concern, because the virus has been spreading largely between men who have sex with men.
Public health organizations and the National Coalition of STD Directors are calling for more federal funding, including $500 million for STD clinics.
Mena suggested reducing stigma, broadening screening and treatment, and supporting the development of at-home testing.
“I envision one day where getting tested [for STDs] can be as simple and as affordable as doing a home pregnancy test,” Mena said.
While syphilis cases dropped sharply with the availability of antibiotics in the 1940s, rates of the infection last year reached their highest since 1991. The total number of cases reached its highest level since 1948.
At one point, infection rates had been so low the CDC planned to work to eliminate the disease, but the agency discarded those plans in 2013 as case numbers continued to grow, the AP reported.
Cases have been rising since 2002, primarily in gay and bisexual men. In 1998, there were only 7,000 new syphilis cases nationwide. By 2021, that number was 52,000, the AP reported.
The rate of cases was 16 per 100,000 people last year, with the highest rates in men who have sex with men and in Black and Hispanic Americans and Native Americans, the AP reported.
Women have typically had a lower rate than men, but it rose 50% last year.
Syphilis causes genital sores. The bacterial infection can lead to severe symptoms and death without treatment.
Congenital syphilis, which passes the infection between a pregnant woman and her baby, can lead to loss of sight, hearing and even death in a newborn. Last year, congenital syphilis cases reached 2,700, including 211 infants who were stillborn or died. That’s a sharp increase from 300 cases annually a decade ago, the AP reported.
Infection rates for gonorrhea have also been increasing for years, while HIV cases were up 16% in 2021, the AP reported.
It is “out of control,” David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told the AP.
Reasons for the increase range from inadequate funding for testing and prevention to delayed diagnosis during the pandemic. Condom use has also been declining, while drug and alcohol use may have reduced inhibitions. Increases may also be linked to a surge in sexual activity after COVID-19 lockdowns.
Attorney General’s investigation faults Danvers officials in hockey scandal
DANVERS, MA – Danvers school officials failed in many ways to properly respond to racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and sexually abusive behavior in the high school boys’ ice hockey program, creating “a toxic team culture,” according to an investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
In response to the inquiry, Danvers school leaders signed a resolution Monday agreeing to develop additional initiatives aimed at preventing and responding to bullying, harassment, and biased misconduct. Under the resolution, the attorney general’s office concluded its investigation without issuing any formal factual or legal findings but will oversee the new initiatives through the 2023-24 school year.
“Racism, homophobia, and bigotry of any kind have no place in our locker rooms, rinks, or playing fields — we need to create a safe and supportive environment for our students to grow and learn,” Healey said in a statement. “With today’s resolution, the Danvers Public School District has committed to making needed changes to improve the culture in its schools and athletics program, protect students’ rights, and ensure that incidents of hate and bias are never overlooked again.”
Healey’s civil rights division launched the investigation after The Boston Globe reported in November that Danvers school and police officials had for more than 16 months concealed from the public details of alleged violent racist and homophobic bullying in the hockey program, as well as a group text chat among members of the 2019-20 team that was rife with deeply offensive racial, homophobic, and antisemitic language and images.
Danvers school officials, in agreeing to the resolution, did not contest numerous faults cited by the attorney general’s office in the town’s handling of the episode. The attorney general’s office said the school district cooperated fully with the investigation and agreed voluntarily to the resolution.
The Danvers case is part of a wave of troubling alleged misconduct over the last year in Massachusetts high school sports that have shaken communities and captured the attention of human rights leaders and government officials.
“This agreement places schools districts on notice that they have a responsibility to respond to bias incidents and take prompt action when hate infiltrates school programs, especially athletics,” said Robert Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “We welcome Danvers’ acceptance of responsibility and commitment to change, which represents a path forward for the entire community.”
The Globe focused on alleged misconduct involving the 2019-20 Danvers hockey team. But the attorney general’s investigation found that Danvers police Sergeant Stephen Baldassare, who coached the team from 2015 to 2021, permitted problems to develop several years earlier and to persist because he “failed to properly supervise the team and locker room in violation of district policies,” according to a letter Healey’s office sent last week to Danvers school leaders requesting they sign the resolution.
What’s more, the Danvers athletic department, led by Andrew St. Pierre, who is not named in the letter, regularly reviewed Baldassare’s performance but failed to identify any problems with the team culture, the letter states.
St. Pierre, however, remains on the job, unlike other school officials who were involved in the controversy, including longtime Superintendent Lisa Dana, who went out on medical leave in December and agreed last month to resign before the next academic year.
It was Dana’s office that permitted Baldassare to continue coaching the hockey team even after school officials became aware of the alleged misconduct — a decision the attorney general’s office noted in its resolution letter.
Troubling, too, the letter states, was the school district’s handling of “multiple, overlapping investigations” of the hockey allegations.
A member of the 2019-20 team told the Globe, the police, and school officials teammates restrained him in the locker room and beat his face with a plastic sex toy because he refused to shout the n-word as part of a ritual. In another ritual, the player said, he was touched on the buttocks after team leaders directed players to strip naked in the dark.
Danvers police attributed the conduct to “immature behavior” and “poor attempts at humor” and determined no crimes occurred. .The attorney general’s inquiry, led by Abigail Taylor, chief of the civil rights division, and Assistant Attorney General Jon Burke, found school officials then may have responded inadequately to the misconduct allegations based on the police findings.
“School officials are responsible for enforcing school policies — not criminal laws — and must independently investigate and respond to allegations of biased misconduct in order to protect students’ rights at school,” the letter to the school district states.
Only after the school board later launched an additional investigation by an outside attorney did the extent of the hockey team’s problems become clearer, the letter indicates.
“The outside investigator concluded that misconduct on the team was significantly more severe than originally identified by either” the school district or police, the letter states.
Yet even then school officials apparently failed to initiate proper disciplinary procedures for the alleged perpetrators, according to the resolution letter.
Healey’s office also challenged the school district’s public statements that the hockey players could not be disciplined for alleged racist, homophobic, and antisemitic texts because they were private, off-campus communications. The attorney general’s letter asserts the district did have legal standing to sanction the students because the group texts were used by players to coordinate team activities and included messages that were exchanged on team bus trips.
“Moreover, schools have the authority to discipline students for even ostensibly private speech that involves, encourages, or fosters an environment that results in bullying or harassment,” the letter states, citing Massachusetts case law.
Danvers school leaders also were faulted for not effectively communicating with the public about the hockey allegations.
Under the resolution, Danvers agreed to submit its new policies and procedures for the attorney general’s approval before implementing them. The district also must train coaches, teachers, and other staff on policies involving complaints, investigations, discipline, and communicating with the public.
In addition, Danvers is required through the 2023-24 school year to report any additional incidents of bullying, harassment, or biased misconduct to the attorney general’s office.
Last month, the North Shore NAACP completed its own investigation of the scandal and called for changes.
“We are grateful that the AG’s office proactively investigated this case and negotiated an appropriate resolution,” chapter president Natalie Bower said. “We now hope the entire town of Danvers — the school, police department, town hall, and individual community members — all take to heart their individual responsibility.”
AG investigation, NAACP report target Danvers leaders in wake of hockey team controversy
DANVERS, MA – Danvers leaders faced new fallout Wednesday from alleged violent racist, homophobic, and antisemitic behavior by its high school boys hockey team, as the state attorney general’s office disclosed it is investigating the school system’s handling of the case and the NAACP called for changes in the Police Department over its role in the controversy.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office had previously stopped short of acknowledging it had launched an investigation, saying only that it was “looking into” the Danvers case. But a spokesperson said Tuesday that a preliminary review has since triggered a formal investigation.
Notable among the allegations the school district withheld were statements by a member of the 2019-20 Danvers team that other players pinned him down in the locker room and beat him about the face for refusing to shout the n-word as part of one ritual and that he was touched inappropriately on the buttocks during another ritual in which players stripped naked in the dark.
Danvers School Superintendent Lisa Dana, who withheld the abuse allegations from the public with the school board’s backing, went on medical leave in December, less than eight weeks after the Globe first reported the system’s refusal to release results of its investigation. Her duties have been handled by assistant superintendents Keith Taverna and Mary Wermers.
In a statement, Taverna and Wermers said, “Starting with the initial outreach to the school department, the district has been receptive to the review process initiated by the Attorney General’s office. We have made ourselves available to answer all of their questions, we have provided all documentation that has been requested of us, and we are prepared to implement recommendations that may follow.”
Meanwhile, in a report issued Wednesday, the North Shore NAACP recommended that Stephen Baldassare, a police sergeant who was also head coach of the hockey team during the alleged misconduct, be reassigned from supervising the town’s school resource officers.
The group also called on the Danvers Police Department to improve its hiring and training, to commit to greater transparency, and to acknowledge that its role in the hockey case contributed to “undermining trust and causing fear and trauma” in the community.
NAACP branch president Natalie Bowers characterized the report as a “People’s Call for Accountability.”
“The community wants to finally heal from the racial trauma that has lingered for the last two years,” Bowers said. “It seeks accountability so that it can rebuild trust in local governance. Danvers has much work to do.”
Bowers, however, stated in a letter Tuesday to the town’s Human Rights and Inclusion Committee that Police Chief James Lovell and Town Manager Steve Bartha have reviewed the report and acknowledged the NAACP’s concerns but “decided not to adopt our recommendations.”
Lovell, in a statement to the Globe, defended the integrity of the hockey investigation, denied the police made any attempt to cover up the allegations, and said the department has taken measures and committed to launching additional initiatives that address the NAACP’s concerns.
He also reflected on the lack of diversity in the Danvers Police Department. The force, including the command staff, is composed of 39 officers: 36 white males and three white females.
“As a civil service community, Danvers is required to follow their guidelines in the selection process of police candidates,” Lovell said. “A list of candidates is provided to us, upon request, by Civil Service, and we are required to hire from that list, which is developed using a variety of criteria, including exam scores, residency, veteran status, etc.”
He said the department uses various methods to screen candidates, including analyzing their responses to questions about racism, bias, and excessive use of force.
Lovell also pledged to promote racial sensitivity in part by assigning officers to attend a four-hour webinar produced by the Anti-Defamation League, titled “Fair, Equitable, and Objective Policing.”
As for removing Baldassare from his school-related assignment, the NAACP report says taking that action would demonstrate “the department is committed to improving its practices, including ensuring that those [officers] it places in critical roles in the schools have the training necessary to do the work appropriately and ensure the safety of the school community without multiple competing priorities and interests.”
Lovell and Bartha have rejected previous requests to reassign Baldassare, a former star athlete at Danvers High School who lives in town and has served on the police force since 1999.
Baldassare told police and school investigators he knew nothing about the alleged misconduct. He has not publicly addressed the allegations.
The Globe’s efforts to reach Baldassare were unsuccessful. In a letter to Lovell and Bartha in February, he said he wanted to retain his police assignment to help the community move forward. The school district rehired him as the hockey coach despite the abuse allegations, but he resigned from the position before the 2021-22 season.
Baldassare wrote that he understands some people will never be satisfied that he was unaware of the alleged misconduct. Throughout his career, he said, “serving, supporting, mentoring, coaching, and helping kids has been the driving motivator and passion in my professional life.”
On accepting a reassignment, Baldassare wrote, “The truth is this would be the easy thing to do, walking away from both the work I love and the challenges that lie ahead, but that isn’t me.”
Instead, he said, “I will ensure that our unit is a leading advocate and force for positive change within the community.”
Bowers said the NAACP and its allies plan to press the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee to support the report’s recommendations and the Select Board to help implement them.
Police seek charges against seven students after Woburn locker room incident
Woburn, MA – Police are pursuing criminal charges against seven students at Woburn Memorial High School after a freshman football player, 14-year-old Johnathan Coucelos, was allegedly assaulted by a throng of teammates last fall in a locker room and attacked twice afterward in the school, according to the boy’s parents and attorney.
A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Lowell Juvenile Court before a clerk magistrate to determine whether probable cause exists to issue criminal complaints against the seven students, said the family’s attorney, Peter Hahn.
Johnathan’s parents, Kevin and Jeanny Coucelos, also notified Woburn’s city solicitor that they plan to sue the city and school department for $750,000 for the trauma Johnathan and the family have suffered over his ordeal.
“No one in the school administration has been held to account despite what has happened to Johnathan — no coach and not Principal [Jessica] Callanan,” the parents stated in their letter.
“I want them to get what they deserve,” Kevin Coucelos added in an interview.
City Solicitor Ellen Callahan Doucette declined to comment, other than to say the letter has been sent to Woburn’s insurance carrier.
The Woburn case, first reported by the Globe in December, is among a wave of troubling alleged misconduct in Massachusetts high school sports in the past year, from Duxbury to Danvers and beyond.
Woburn School Superintendent Matt Crowley said he “takes this matter seriously and is treating it with the utmost sincerity and gravity.”
“We acknowledge and support the student and family that had the strength to come forward to report this deeply troubling matter,” Crowley said in a statement.
Crowley said the school district has retained outside counsel, Patrick Hanley and the Butters Brazilian law firm, to conduct a Title IX investigation, which will be followed by “a thorough administrative review and policy analysis” by a second outside firm led by former Massachusetts secretary of public safety and security Daniel Bennett, former State Police colonel Kerry Gilpin, and attorney John Benzan.
“We pledge to be forthcoming regarding the results of those investigations and pledge to enact their findings and recommendations,” Crowley said.
Johnathan, who stopped attending the Woburn school in December out of fear for his safety, plans to enroll soon at the Cambridge Matignon School, where officials have pledged the community will welcome him, his parents said.
The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they give their consent.
Johnathan and his parents said they appreciated hearing from Woburn police Wednesday and the Middlesex district attorney’s office Thursday that a joint investigation had produced sufficient evidence for the police to seek charges against his alleged assailants. The family expressed frustration, however, that nearly four months had passed since they reported the incident, while a football player who allegedly groped Johnathan during the locker room episode was permitted to remain on the football team and compete in the program’s first-ever Thanksgiving week game at Fenway Park. Two other players who face possible charges remained on the team as well.
“It’s outrageous,” Kevin Coucelos said. “If there was an assault and battery on Main Street, someone would have been arrested on the spot and gone before a judge. It never should have taken this long.”
Worse, Coucelos said, is that none of the football coaches or the athletic director has been disciplined for their alleged failure to properly supervise the team and monitor the locker room. Johnathan’s parents particularly blamed athletic director Jim Duran, head football coach Jack Belcher, and assistant coach Chase Andrews.
Johnathan said he immediately reported the locker room incident to Andrews but felt ignored by him. Hahn said prosecutors declined a request to file charges against Andrews, but that the family has not ruled out pressing charges.
The Woburn police and Middlesex DA’s office declined to comment.
As for Belcher, Hahn said, “There needs to be at least some disciplinary consequence to the head coach because it’s his coaching squad and his team.”
The Globe’s attempts to reach Belcher, Andrews, and Duran were unsuccessful.
The Coucelos family said Callanan, the school principal, failed to protect Johnathan in part by waiting to impose a safety plan on the student who allegedly groped him until they obtained a harassment prevention order against him in juvenile court in December, more than two months after the incident.
Efforts to reach Callanan also were unsuccessful.
If the clerk magistrate finds probable cause Tuesday to issue criminal complaints against the students, they would go before a Juvenile Court judge for arraignment. Police have applied for criminal complaints of assault and battery against all seven students, and an additional charge of indecent assault and battery for the student who allegedly touched Johnathan’s genitals.
Johnathan said he was attacked in the freshman locker room Sept. 25 as retribution for junior varsity and freshman players being disciplined after he fought a student who repeatedly poked him under the bleachers during a varsity game Sept. 10. The players had been instructed not to congregate under the bleachers.
A video recording of the locker room incident shows about a dozen players swarming Johnathan, spraying him with water, and throwing water bottles at him. One player is seen punching him and another is heard shouting, “Take his [stuff],” before one of them rips his Apple watch from his wrist.
Another teammate is seen bending toward Johnathan, who said the player pulled down his pants and grabbed his genitals.
Johnathan said he later was targeted by students who chided him for not fighting back and for “snitching.” One student who faces a possible assault charge allegedly punched him several times in a school bathroom.
Another student, a former football player, allegedly entered Johnathan’s Spanish class, grabbed him by the shirt, and warned him to stop snitching.
Johnathan’s parents said he was vibrant and outgoing before the attacks. He has since become isolated, withdrawn, and distrustful, and is now receiving psychiatric care, they said.
Jeanny Coucelos said the experience has made her fearful for the safety of all four of her children. She has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and panic disorder, she said, and has been unable to resume her job as a day care and pre-kindergarten teacher since December.
Kevin Coucelos, a construction foreman and machine operator, said his job performance also has suffered because of the stress.
Since January, Johnathan has been tutored remotely by a Woburn school teacher. Now, six months after he proudly joined the Woburn football program, he is preparing for the challenge of starting a new life at Matignon.
Medical experts say Elijah Lewis appears to have been ‘tortured’
Autopsy raises new questions about texts sent by New Hampshire child’s mother
The sores were something you’d see on someone living in a derelict nursing home — or someone held in restraints. The malnourishment hinted at weeks, if not months, without adequate food. And then there was the trauma to the head.
The final days of 5-year-old Elijah Lewis’s short life remain shrouded in mystery, but medical experts say the recent autopsy findings alone suggest the shaggy-haired little boy from Merrimack, N.H., suffered a level of abuse that went far beyond what they typically see.
“It’s more than just . . . minor medical neglect,” said Alice W. Newton, medical director of the Child Protection Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It would fall into the category of torture, really.”
The autopsy results also raise new questions about text messages sent by the boy’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 35, who is being held without bail in New Hampshire along with her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30. In the January texts sent to a friend and obtained by the Globe, Dauphinais said she argued with Stapf’s mother for giving Elijah too much food, saying “this child will eat till he pukes.” Stapf’s mother, according to Dauphinais’s text, said it was “child abuse” to withhold food from a child.
Reached Monday, Dauphinais’s attorney, Jaye Rancourt, declined to comment on the messages, saying that “without verification that this is actually a text message from my client, I can’t really respond. This could be a complete fabrication.”
The texts match a detailed description of the messages given by the person who originally received them.
Questions about the circumstances of Elijah’s death have only grown since his body was discovered in the woods of Abington, Mass., on Oct. 23, following a 10-day search that included law enforcement agencies from at least five states. Since then, authorities have released little in the way of details as they continue to investigate. Meanwhile, relatives and people who lived near the child’s home in Merrimack say they seldom saw the boy in the months leading up to his disappearance.
The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office last month ruled the boy’s death a homicide, determining the cause to be “violence and neglect, including facial and scalp injuries, acute fentanyl intoxication, malnourishment and pressure ulcers.” Pressure ulcers, more commonly referred to as bedsores, are typically found in bedridden people unable to change position.
But neither Dauphinais nor Stapf has been charged with murder. Instead, they are being held on charges of child endangerment and witness tampering related to their alleged attempts to mislead investigators trying to determine the boy’s whereabouts in October. Both have pleaded not guilty.
It remains unclear how involved New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families was with the boy prior to his disappearance. The agency has declined to comment on the case, though authorities have said that DCYF initially reported the boy missing to law enforcement on Oct. 14, and Dauphinais told a friend last June that she’d been in contact with the agency.
Texts sent by Dauphinais to another friend and obtained by the Globe make it clear that she had serious concerns about her son, including the amount he ate, at least nine months before the boy was discovered missing.
In a text to a friend on Jan. 7, Dauphinais complained that Stapf’s mother, Joanne — with whom the couple shared a home — was feeding the boy against her wishes. Dauphinais said Joanne Stapf would also “baby him and love on him” even when Elijah acted up. “I made Elijah a decent plate of food and she insisted on giving him seconds,” Dauphinais wrote in a January text. “I told her no because this child will eat till he pukes and then eat some more. I also told her that he’s having cake after so there is no need for seconds.” “She said I was wrong and that was child abuse,” Dauphinais continued. “She said that she’s an Italian grandma and that she considers this child abuse in her family. Like wtf!”
According to two physicians who spoke with the Globe, both of whom specialize in cases of child abuse or neglect, the details outlined in the autopsy report paint a particularly grim picture. Though neither is involved with the case or privy to case files, both described the autopsy findings to be extreme, even within the realm of neglect cases.
“This is not like an everyday thing,” said Dr. Suzanne Haney, a Nebraska-based child abuse pediatrician who serves as the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. “This extreme of a case, fortunately, is very rare.”
Both doctors described the bedsores, in particular, as highly irregular in a developmentally normal child. The painful, circular lesions are almost never seen in young, physically mobile patients, leading them to believe that Elijah could have been restrained in some way prior to his death.
“Skin breakdown or bedsores is not something you’d ever see in a healthy 5-year-old,” said Newton. “That, to me, speaks to being tied down . . . or [being] so weak or malnourished that he was unable to move at the end of his life.”
Added Haney, “If you combine malnourishment and pressure ulcers, I’m thinking he was either restrained or his malnourishment was to the point where . . . he was unconscious or semiconscious for a period of time.”
Either condition would’ve been a red flag to doctors, said Newton — but it’s unclear whether Dauphinais ever took Elijah to see a physician in New Hampshire.
Born in Arizona in 2016, the boy spent much of his early life in the custody of his father following his parents’ contentious 2017 divorce. In divorce paperwork, Timothy Lewis accused Dauphinais of being “violent and impulsive” and having a “history of domestic violence and substance abuse.” A decree approved by the court blocked Dauphinais from spending time with her son.
Last May, however, for unclear reasons, Elijah arrived in New Hampshire to live with Dauphinais and her boyfriend, Stapf.
Though initially excited by her son’s arrival, Dauphinais, two friends said, soon became exasperated by what she described as the boy’s myriad behavioral issues. In texts to a friend last summer, Dauphinais likened her son to a serial killer, saying she felt no connection to the child and that she wanted him “gone.”
One friend, Michelle O’Brien, who has known Dauphinais since both were teenagers, told the Globe she’d provided the name of a pediatrician to Dauphinais, but did not know whether she ever followed up on it.
The office of New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella, which is handling the case, has declined to release records of previous police visits to the home that Dauphinais and Stapf shared, though neighbors said police were a common presence at the residence, which backs up to a quiet lake.
New Hampshire Representative Kimberly Rice, who chairs the House committee on children and family law, acknowledged that the state’s child welfare agency has suffered from staffing issues that have left it hamstrung.
“I don’t think they’re doing a bad job at DCYF,” said Rice. “We have positions that need to be filled that are funded, but the people aren’t there, and if the people aren’t there, I don’t know how you continue to hold an agency accountable when you can’t get the positions filled.”
As the criminal case moves forward, meanwhile, Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, said her office would be opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death.
Appointed by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu in 2018, O’Neill provides oversight of the state’s child protection services, as well as “holding systems accountable,” according to the state website.
But with a small office currently engaged in other cases, she cautioned that the process could take up to a year to complete.
“If what’s reported in the newspapers is correct,” O’Neill said, “it does sound as though this was a preventable death.”