U.S. to Screen Exchange Host Families The U.S. government outlines new proposals to screen families who host foreign exchange students and regulate agencies that sponsor the students. The move follows criticism from children's welfare advocates that sexual abuse of the students was unmonitored.

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U.S. to Screen Exchange Host Families

U.S. to Screen Exchange Host Families

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The U.S. government outlines new proposals to screen families who host foreign exchange students and regulate agencies that sponsor the students. The move follows criticism from children's welfare advocates that sexual abuse of the students was unmonitored.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today, the State Department proposed new rules aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of foreign exchange students by members of their host families. There have been several highly publicized criminal cases against American hosts. As NPR's Libby Lewis reports, the government says the problem is rare, but that it still warrants action.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

The State Department oversees the 128 programs that sponsor foreign exchange students in American high schools. Stanley Colvin is the director of the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation.

Mr. STANLEY COLVIN (Director, Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation): We know of five cases out of 250,000. Now I think if you wanted to, you know, compare that to other populations, you would find that that is a very low statistic, below the statistical expectation.

LEWIS: One of those five cases is a Gaithersburg, Maryland, high school biology teacher who pled guilty to sexual offenses involving a 17-year-old German student living with his family. For the first time, if these rules are enacted, the men and women who host foreign exchange students would have to be vetted to see if they have any criminal history or are listed on any sex offender registry. The government also would require the sponsoring programs to keep track of host families and students and orient foreign exchange students to report inappropriate physical contact. Stanley Colvin.

Mr. COLVIN: There's been some suggestion that many of these foreign students come from cultures where they are too embarrassed to bring the matter up or it's not part of their culture to question authority, and we want to make sure that they understand that in the United States, you know, this is inappropriate behavior and that they should report it.

LEWIS: Danielle Grijalva, who used to work with a sponsoring program, says the government is downplaying the problem. She's with the Committee for Safety of Foreign Students, a California-based group.

Ms. DANIELLE GRIJALVA (Committee for Safety of Foreign Students): The problem here is that there are no child protection policies given to these students; there are no safeguards. It's a dark secret.

LEWIS: Grijalva says she's gotten letters from some students who say they were sexually abused. She read from one of those. It came from a Danish boy who lived with David Goodhead(ph), a Riverside, California, man who pleaded guilty to abusing the boy on a trip to Yosemite National Park.

Ms. GRIJALVA: (Reading) `It took me about four years to work and earn the money to come to America. I wanted to come to America because I wanted to experience American culture. I thought it would be one of the greatest adventures of my life. I arrived to the United States 30th July. The first place I went to was New York, and I stayed there for 10 days. After that, I went to meet my first host parent. His name is David Goodhead, and he lives in Riverside, California. I only lived with him for three weeks. The reason why I left is because David sexually abused me.'

LEWIS: There's a 60-day public comment period before the rules go into effect. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

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