TRAVELERS REST — Sam Snow found work at an Upstate poultry plant when he was released from prison in March, earning $8.91 an hour hauling 40-pound boxes of raw chicken parts around the refrigerated thigh room. He needed the job, he said, and the plant hires almost anyone, even convicted child molesters.
“It's a downgrade, but by God, I don't have to register for killing chickens,” the 24-year-old said.
His little sister Jane, who lives nearby, graduated from high school in Kershaw County a couple of years ago, but suffers from such severe post-traumatic stress disorder that she can't work anywhere. For years, as caseworkers shuffled them in and out of group homes and foster homes across the state, Sam raped his sister more times than she can count.
They tell it differently, but if anyone's to blame for their sad story, both believe it's the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
“Until I was about six, and started to actually understand what he was doing to me, I didn't feel that it was wrong because I went to him when I was scared and I thought he was just trying to protect me,” Jane said. “I started to talk to my DSS worker about it and she was explaining that it wasn't right, but yet she still hid it in the file.”
Jane filed a lawsuit against the Department of Social Services for its alleged failure to protect her.
Agency Director Susan Alford said she could not discuss any pending litigation.
More than 2,000 children in South Carolina are removed from their parents' homes each year, and hundreds of them have been sexually abused, state records show. Jane and Sam, who asked that The Post and Courier conceal their identities by using false names, were both molested by relatives before Social Services swept them away from their mother. But the alternative turned out to be equally dangerous.
Unsupervised children prey on each other every night in South Carolina group and foster homes, and the Social Services agency can't seem to stop the abuse, according to child welfare experts, former foster children and group home employees.
“When you have a bunch of young folks, a bunch of people, in one area and there's limited supervision, a lot of things can happen,” said Michael Gaskins, executive director of Greenwood County First Steps, a program that prepares young children for school. “It's just like our jail — people get raped in our jail. It's because there are so many inmates and not enough supervision.”
Deborah and Robert Butcher, Camden attorneys who represent Jane and Sam, said the Department of Social Services never treated either child properly for the trauma they suffered.
“They become adults and they will re-abuse,” Deborah Butcher said. “They then end up in jail and it's expensive for our society one way or another. You get that child treated, even though it's expensive ... they stand a good chance of never abusing again, going on to be productive citizens. That's not happening.”
By his own count, Sam molested nine children in state custody before he turned 16, including two older teenagers who were “slightly handicapped,” he said.
It worked both ways. In one large foster home, older kids made Jane watch as they molested Sam.
Sam said he eventually served five years, nine months and 19 days in a detention facility for raping his sister, even though he calls the abuse “naked rubbing against each other,” nothing more.
“If the opportunity arose, it happened. If it didn't, it didn't,” he said.
In a separate interview, Jane said she doesn't blame her brother for the abuse.
“But there's still those feelings,” she said. “It's always going to be there. There are some things I cannot do with a partner because of that. There's a lot of things I won't do, that I'm too afraid to do because of it.”
Jane continued to suffer from sexual abuse even after the state locked Sam up. Years later, when she lived with a foster family in Orangeburg, a neighbor forced Jane into prostitution. Neither her foster parents nor her state caseworker were paying close attention, she said.
“There was this 23-year-old girl who was a lot bigger than me. She saw I wouldn't take up for myself. She forced me and two other girls into prostitution,” Jane said.
“It was a lot of different times with three different guys,” she said. “They paid her. It depended on what they had me do. Certain things cost more than other things.”
Sam said he was released from prison on his 21st birthday, then sent back for fondling another child when he was 22 years old. He denies that he did anything wrong and plans to file a lawsuit against the state for its failure to treat him for sexual aggression 15 years ago, when he said he clearly needed help.
“Instead of building jails, we should be building rehabilitation,” he said. “You send me to jail, I'm not going there to learn from my mistakes. I'm going to learn how to do them better without getting caught.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
Continue reading: Group homes pull in millions every year from taxpayers