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“I decided to put my name out there – nobody made the decision for me, and nobody made me do it.”
Those are the emphatic words of Ashley Hilger, 17, reflecting on her decision to speak publically about a lawsuit that sprang out of sexual abuse she said she had endured at the hands of her adopted brother.
She spoke calmly, clearly and fearlessly, undeterred by the actions that those words set in motion as she described what she said was years of abuse by Jose Rodriquez, whom she had considered a friend, abuse that she had hoped would end before she had to speak.
Hilger’s mother, Beverly Hilger of Shelbyville, filed that suit Monday in Jefferson Circuit Court against three social workers from the Kentucky Cabinet of Health and Family Services, alleging they concealed a history of sexual abuse involving two brothers the Hilgers adopted, two boys-turned-men who later molested their adoptive sisters.
Ashley Hilger, 17, a student at Shelby County High School, said that she does not regret her decision to participate in video interviews during a televised press conference Tuesday.
“I was asked what I would like to do, and I decided that being honest about it would be the best thing,” she said.
That decision, she said, has resulted in a tremendous show of support for her.
“A lot of my friends and family – and even people that I didn’t even know very well, and even my teachers – have said, ‘I’m so proud of you, Ashley for speaking out; you’re doing the right thing.’”
Beverly Hilger said she hopes her daughter’s courage is an inspiration to other young women who have endured sexual abuse.
“She is a strong young woman who wanted to put a face to this violent crime that goes on throughout the world; what else could we do but stand behind her and support her and be there with her through this entire process?” she said. “She is a brave young lady to step forward to show the world, that hey, if this has happened to you…”
Ashley Hilger said she did not tell her mother immediately that Rodriquez had been molesting her, because she did not want to ruin his life and hoped he would stop.
“I was really confused at first. I didn’t understand, because he was by brother and we were friends,” she said. “He would, like, tickle me during the day, and then at night, it was just different.
“As I grew up, I understood that it was wrong, and that I should tell, but I didn’t want to ruin his future, he was going to go to college and do something with his life. When he moved away to college, I told myself that if it ever happened again, I would tell, and when it did happen one more time, that’s when I decided I had to tell.”
James and Beverly Hilger had adopted the brothers, Angel Pargas and Rodriquez, now 20 and 24 years old, respectively, when they were 11 and 15 years old. They had seen the stories of the brothers on a “Wednesday’s Child” segment on television news.
The Hilgers already had four adopted daughters and were vocal advocates for the adoption process.
Ashley is the oldest.
But then another minor daughter, whom Beverly wished not to be named, told her parents that Pargas had been molesting two of her sisters as well.
1st reaction: anger
Hilger said when she first learned of the abuse, she was floored.
“Like any normal parent, I was upset. I was concerned. I was mad. I mean, you run the whole gamut of emotions when you find out that your child has been sexually abused,” she said.
She was even more devastated, she said, when she learned that the boys had been sexually abused while in foster care before she met them and that Cabinet workers had not revealed that information to her, she said.
“My reaction to that was anger, because I had obviously been deceived and not been given the information that by law, they’re required to give us,” she said.
The Hilgers’s suit names Bonnie Hommrick of Nashville and Desiree Rhodes and William Hardin of Louisville. They have not returned phone calls from The Sentinel-News. The Cabinet was not named in the suit.
The Hilgers’s suit asks for a jury trial, compensatory damages, punitive damages and associates costs and fees. Louisville attorney Bill McMurry, representing the Hilgers, said that he has had no response to the suit.
“They have not filed an answer, they have twenty days from the time they receive the complaint to file an answer.”
Holding people accountable
Beverly Hilger said it’s inexcusable that her daughters have had to endure such abuse.
“It was physical abuse, fondling and touching,” she said, adding that the youngest child, was not abused, but did witness the acts.
Pargas was placed in a sex offender program, and when he was 18, he moved back to Texas, where his birth parents live, Hilger said.
Rodriguez is incarcerated at the Shelby County Detention Center, charged with first-degree sexual abuse of a minor child. He has a jury trial scheduled for Oct. 30.
“It’s about holding the right people accountable. It’s the social workers at the Cabinet level, to disclose and not disclose information randomly, in hopes of forming transparency in the Cabinet, and especially for foster and adoptive parents, who come in here with their heart to bring these children into their homes,” she said.
Ashley Hilger said another reason she agreed to speak publically about what happened to her is because she believes “it’s the right thing to do.”
“I want people to know it’s not my fault, and the person whose fault it is should be held accountable, and I should not be ashamed of something I couldn’t help.”