How a Teenage Page Blew the Whistle on Congressional Sex Scandal

US Capitol PDZach Stanton had been enamored with politics since childhood. As a teenager, he worked hard to achieve one goal-become a Congressional page. In August 2001, weeks before he would enter his junior year in high school, he received his acceptance letter into the House of Representatives page program.

He had achieved his dream and would now be working with some of the most powerful men and women in the country. As an impressionable teenager, he was now living and working in the adult world with all the pressure, responsibility, and power that accompanied it. As he writes in Politico, the work was exhilarating and demanding. He interacted with members of Congress on a daily basis. Some of the members were friendly and gracious while others were distant and dismissive. One of the friendlier members, Representative Mark P. Foley from Florida was charismatic, charming, and lavished attention on the pages, especially the male pages. Stanton writes

“Most of the members paid no attention to the pages, but there were those who were friendly, who made an effort to get to know ‘the help.’ Mark Foley was one of them. At the end of the page year, he spoke movingly about our class on the House floor. He seemed to have a personal anecdote to share about each and every single page. Foley’s quick smile and easy small talk were disarming, which may be why it took so long for anyone to notice that he was on the prowl.”

Zach Stanton recalls that early in the page year, Foley had begun instant messaging some of the pages. Stanton writes:

“One of the pages Foley had messaged told me and a few classmates about it. We treated the messages like standard-issue, salacious high school gossip: inappropriate, sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. When you’re 16, you think of yourself as far older and more mature than you really are—especially when your daily routine involves a full-time job on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Stanton’s perception changed in 2006 when he heard an ABC News report that Mark Foley had sent inappropriate emails to a 16-year-old House page. Stanton, a senior at Michigan State University, contacted a fellow page who had kept the transcripts of his electronic conversations with Foley. Stanton decided to contact the ABC News reporter who had written the initial story on Foley. Stanton explains:

“Somehow, I had never imagined that Foley’s behavior was part of a pattern, a predatory approach, year after year, class after class, teenager after teenager; he got older, they stayed the same age. An ugly smear campaign? I knew that was a lie. And I knew that there was incontrovertible proof. These emails were nothing. You can explain your way out of the creepiness of asking a teenager for his age and photo. You cannot juke away from what I’d seen. The transcripts we traded were totally different—full of explicit references to masturbation and penis size and attempts to arrange a real-life rendezvous.”

Zach Stanton’s decision led to the downfall of not one but two Congressmen. Based largely on the emails Stanton provided the media, Representative Mark Foley resigned from Congress and eventually House Speaker Dennis Hastert followed suit.

“I was a congressional page in 2001 and 2002. During that year, Foley sent sexual instant messages to at least three of my classmates. The messages weren’t flirtatious—though some started that way—but out and out lewd. Two of those recipients continued to receive them well after their time in the page program had elapsed, extending into our college years. Many of us who were pages at the time knew that the conversations had taken place. Some of us even shared copies of the message logs among ourselves. But how the conversations went public, and who gave them to reporters and started the avalanche that ended Foley’s career and dealt a blow to the Republican congressional majority, has never come out.

It was me.”

It took more than a decade but the truth was eventually exposed. Mark Foley was a serial predator and influential members of Congress had known about it and informed House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Hastert ignored it until the story had spiraled out of control and into the open. Hastert, as we now know, had his own reasons for protecting Foley. He too had been involved in a sexual abuse scandal years before when he was a high school wrestling coach. Hastert pled guilty earlier this year to banking violations in connection to providing “hush” money to a victim of his sexual abuse.

Hastert may face prison when he is sentenced in February 2016. Foley is living in Florida in relative obscurity. Others who knew about Foley’s emails but did nothing about them face little if any criminal or civil penalties. Since Foley’s resignation, the page program has been disbanded. Teens with aspiration of public service will no long have the possibility of working in the Congress as pages. We’ve witnessed similar outcomes in the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Perpetrators are protected because, in many instances, their superiors have similar issues to keep secret. The victims are tossed aside and punished.

Powerful institutions such as our churches, civic organizations, and our government have a moral responsibility to model what is best in human nature and civil society. When they don’t the consequences should be dire. The corruption and exploitation of our youth demands it.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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