Free publicity for the “Teen Gulag”

I’m not sure why I’ve held up posting on this issue for so long, but a few months ago the BBC ran a series of features on a girl from England who was tricked into going to the so-called “Casa By The Sea” in Mexico - a private prison camp for troubled and/or troublesome teenagers. Susie El Madawi, from Halifax in west Yorkshire, was dumped there by her mother who was concerned about her rebellious behaviour and feared that she’d end up in prostitution or dead. Strangely, the BBC which is meant to be committed to neutral “public service broadcasting”, has ended up giving free publicity to the organisation which runs what is actually a chain of boot camps. What I found very disturbing is that the film-makers took at face value the apparent lack of resentment Susie El Madawi displayed against her mother. The fact is that this is a natural reaction after being deprived of her mother’s company and protection for several months after what other sources claim is a brutal regime. It gives no guarantee that recriminations will not come later, after the victim has had some time to think about what has gone on.

Even worse, the BBC made no reference in any of its articles or radio and TV programmes to the poor conditions at Casa which, according to this account, caused asthma attacks; to the class action lawsuits filed against the organisation, called “World-Wide Association of Speciality Programs”, in the courts in California, nor to accusations of sexual abuse at one of WWASP’s facilities in Jamaica, nor even to the fact that the US State Department has seen fit to issue a travel warning regarding these places, or the fact that some of those claimed as graduates by a similar institution deny that the programme helped them, or that they needed it at all. In fact, when the BBC solicited comments here and here, it appeared that nobody had had negative experiences with this organisation, which as numerous other websites demonstrate, is far from being the case. (Even some of what Susie El Madawi described would get such a place shut down if it was in the UK.)

Significantly, several of them are located not in the USA itself, but in third-world countries nearby: Mexico, Jamaica and Samoa. Could this be because these types of places could not survive in countries where children are perceived to have rights, and where kidnapping and false imprisonment are held to be crimes, even when perpetrated against minors? Abuse thrives on silence, impunity, and fear. I know this from my own experience at a supposedly “special” boarding school, where a number of pupils believed that if they were expelled, they’d end up at a “detention centre” and where I heard people scorn the notion of “rights” on a number of occasions. Of course, it’s unlikely that this odious organisation will be getting any more free publicity off the BBC, but it’s a shameful episode all the same.

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