PYC Statement on Former LGBTQ Nonprofit Leader John Dawe’s Sentencing for Sexual Abuse

I am glad to see the Pennsylvania Youth Congress coming forward with a clear, concise record of their efforts to hold sexual predator John Dawe and the LGBTQ adults who enabled him accountable for sexual violence inflicted on our youth. This has been known for years. These organizations are no better than the Catholic Church which protected abusers and their institution at the expense of youth for decades.

I asked former board members to comment, like a City Councilor in Central PA, but they refused. They still list their service with Equality PA as part of their resume. The person listed as current Board President refused to respond to my inquiries. Another community leader bemoaned that Dawe had a FB profile photo with Dr. Rachel Levine as a source of concern – not the children, not Dr. Levine’s failure to have Dawe remove the photo, not the institutional failures of LGBTQ organizations to respond appropriately.  They’ve all had multiple years to speak out, to specifically address this. They haven’t done so. I either get no response or admonished for the potential for the LGBTQ community to look bad. We should look bad because we have failed these victims and others with our veil of silence. Shame on all of us. 

As a survivor of childhood sexual violence surrounded by many adults who failed to protect me and other victims, I feel this very keenly. I didn’t push hard enough. More kids were violated. 

So kudos to the Pennsylvania Youth Council for doing that work while supporting the survivors.

This is the ask: “We formally asked Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors to hold themselves accountable for propping up a now-convicted perpetrator of sexual assault against a minor. It breaks our hearts to think Dawe’s most recent victim may have been spared this trauma had the adults in positions of power chosen to act with accountability to protect vulnerable youth instead of shying away from a difficult situation.”

There is no room for sexual assault in LGBTQ communities.

On January 6, 2022, John Dawe, former leader of LGBTQ organizations including the NEPA Rainbow Alliance and Equality Pennsylvania, was sentenced following guilty pleas for child pornography, criminal solicitation to receive child pornography, and three separate counts of unlawful contact with a minor to commit sexual abuse. In April 2021, Dawe was arrested after a sting operation by local police posing as a young boy.

Unfortunately, child sexual abuse and predatory sexual assault occur in every kind of community, and LGBTQ communities are no exception. However, the actions community leaders choose to take in response can either mitigate trauma and prevent future abuse, or excuse and exacerbate such violence. Young people experience harm when LGBTQ non-profit culture denies the existence of sexual assault. Dawe was allowed to quietly leave nonprofit organization leadership roles, which provided cover for him to assault more young people. Enough.

We are issuing this statement to provide complete clarity on PYC’s role in holding him accountable and to urge organizations and individuals in the future to not allow him around young people.

The following is an outline of events as they took place from 2018 through the present:

June 2018: Former Board members of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance contacted PYC with allegations of recent sexual assault by Dawe which had arisen in the region, and they asked for support. The information shared included documentation of Dawe’s charges in Tioga County of child pornography in 2003, and unlawful use of a computer and child pornography in 2000. Over the next several weeks, PYC conducted a thorough investigation into Dawe’s alleged conduct.

July 2018: PYC’s investigation collected testimony from young men he assaulted in the past several years.
PYC learned information about his charges in Tioga County from 2003 where police discovered he stole Mansfield University databases and additionally possessed a CD containing child sexual abuse materials. These charges collectively included 15 third degree felony counts of possession of child pornography, eight counts of unlawful use of a computer, and three counts of receiving stolen property. Dawe had entered guilty pleas in 2003 to single counts of endangering the welfare of children and receiving stolen property, with the prosecution dropping all 15 counts of possession of child pornography, eight counts of unlawful use of a computer, and two counts of receiving stolen property. PYC learned that Tioga County President Judge Robert E. Dalton Jr. sentenced him to four years probation.

Additionally, PYC learned about his termination of employment in 2009 after sending inappropriate sexual images to a male employee. PYC also received information from individuals who alleged they caught him using a camera to spy on them in a residential bathroom.

August 2018: On August 2, 2018, PYC leaders and a NEPA community leader confront Dawe in-person at the Equality Pennsylvania office in Kingston, PA, to share that upon investigation there are credible allegations of him perpetrating sexual assault and harassment and to demand his immediate resignation as the leader of the organization. He agreed to resign by the end of the day and did so.

Simultaneously, PYC sent a formal letter to the Equality Pennsylvania Board of Directors detailing the investigation and demanding: 1) a formal internal investigation; 2) holding themselves entirely publicly accountable for having him as a Board member and ultimately leader of the organization for eight years; and, 3) vet all current and future Board members and staff. On the same day, PYC delivered all of the information collected during its investigation to the State Police and Kingston Borough Police Department. Information was also shared with a nonprofit professional fundraising consulting firm that Dawe was known to be additionally affiliated with, that acknowledged receipt and said they would take it under consideration.

Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors responded to PYC’s letter on August 9, 2018, in which they committed to conduct an internal investigation. Conversations between PYC leaders and Equality Pennsylvania Board members took place. On August 25, 2018, PYC sent all the information it collected over the course of its investigation to Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors by email.

October 2018: Upon receiving no updates on an internal investigation by Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors, PYC issued a press release detailing the events to date to key media outlets across the commonwealth. No news articles were published. Reporters cited that they generally do not write articles unless there have been formal charges made.

November 2018: Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors issued a statement on their Facebook page on November 12, 2018, noting that in August 2018 they had “received notice of alleged misconduct” against Dawe, and indicated that as they are conducting an investigation there would be no further information released at that time. No indication of the misconduct being sexual assault was mentioned.

Winter 2018: PYC was told by Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors that their investigation had concluded and that since he was no longer in the position, there was nothing they were legally obligated to do.

April 2021: Dawe was charged with sexual abuse of children, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of a minor along with other related charges. In early April the charges were filed for soliciting nude images from who he thought was a 15 year-old boy but was actually a county detective. Additional charges were filed later in the month when local and state police discovered he had repeatedly sexually assaulted a then-16 year-old boy several times in the past year. On the date of Dawe’s arrest in April 2021, he was still listed as an employee of the nonprofit professional fundraising consulting firm on their website.

August 2021: Dawe pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse of a minor, as well as one count each of possession of and solicitation of child pornography. All five charges were felony counts. Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough revoked Dawe’s bail so that he would be in custody of the Luzerne County Jail until his sentencing.

January 2022Dawe is sentenced to 1-2 years with 274 days marked as time served. Dawe may be released from county jail as soon as April 2022, followed by seven years of probation and 25 years of mandatory registry as a sex offender.

Ultimately, Dawe is responsible for his actions. However, the organizations and individuals that enabled him should also be held to account. When people ignore documented history of possessing child sexual abuse material or credible allegations of sexual assault in order to avoid controversy, they are part of perpetuating this problem. We formally asked Equality Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors to hold themselves accountable for propping up a now-convicted perpetrator of sexual assault against a minor. It breaks our hearts to think Dawe’s most recent victim may have been spared this trauma had the adults in positions of power chosen to act with accountability to protect vulnerable youth instead of shying away from a difficult situation.

Shared [on their website] are the letters between PYC and Equality Pennsylvania. As of early 2020, no Board members of Equality Pennsylvania were formally known to PYC or other community leaders in PA. Tax records show the organization was over $100,000 in debt by 2017. The Equality Federation removed Equality Pennsylvania from its listing of members after Dawe’s departure. Also posted [on the website] are the press release issued in October 2018 and Equality Pennsylvania’s statement from November 2018. At some point after Dawe’s sentencing on January 6, 2022, Equality Pennsylvania’s Facebook page was deleted.

PYC would like to make clear that it does not support the prison industrial complex. The institutionalized racism, classism, and ableism of our carceral state is unacceptable. A sentence should reflect an appropriate punishment for a given crime. However, crimes which include possession of child sexual abuse materials and sexual assault of minors should be treated with grave concern for young lives. Dawe’s pattern of repeated sexually violent behavior has remained consistent for over a decade. The Times Leader stated how Dawe received a light sentence, and PYC agrees with this assessment.

Upon sentencing Dawe to probation in 2003, President Judge Dalton said: “You do not seem like the type of person who would do this again.”

Upon sentencing Dawe in 2022, President Judge Vough said: “I’m pretty confident you’re not going to be back (in court), but you have to be punished for what you did.”

Both judges cited in their sentencing remarks they were being lenient because of his history of community service.

>During Dawe’s virtual sentencing hearing last week in Wilkes-Barre, the Times Leader noted how he “failed to apologize to the boy while he read from a prepared statement.” We are in solidarity with survivors of the trauma Dawe put them through. We want to remind them we are only some of the many people who support them and who are willing to stand beside them. Regardless of the justice system’s verdict, we hope to ensure Dawe will not have access to vulnerable youth again.

PYC calls on LGBTQ communities across the commonwealth to commit to transparency, accountability, and action on addressing sexual violence in all its forms. We are responsible for the culture we create — whether that is a culture that treats its people as disposable resources, or as beloved and respected community members. It is on us to do what we can to protect our most vulnerable, and we know children are at a heightened risk for sexual violence. According to the YWCA and the CDC, nearly 70% of all reported sexual abuse occurs to children ages 17 and under. Young adults under 25 also experience high rates of sexual abuse. Given that a community’s response to sexual abuse is one of the four major factors that can make or break a survivor’s resiliency or recovery, it is of utmost importance that we approach these issues with due diligence and accountability. It is not just about having a policy on sexual harassment, it’s about performing background checks and doing the right thing when presented with credible allegations.

Our hearts break for all those who Dawe has assaulted and harassed. May he never commit these acts again. May there be justice for those he perpetrated sexual violence against. May there be no space anywhere in LGBTQ communities that harbor sexual predators instead of seeking justice and help for all involved. May there be healing for all and a future free from cycles of abuse.

For any individual impacted by sexual violence, we encourage you to reach out for help and resources. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) provides help, hope and healing to survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault and their families. Your local rape crisis center, which can be reached by calling 1-888-772-7227, can provide free and confidential counseling, court assistance and more. Visit pcar.org to learn more.

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