Sex-Abuse Case in Harlem Leaves Neighbors Confused

Date: 1991-05-23
Source: nytimes.com

Sex-Abuse Case in Harlem Leaves Neighbors Confused

May 23, 1991
By CELIA W. DUGGER

On Striver's Row, the shady, elegant block of Harlem row houses where Kodzo Dobosu lived with his 18 adopted children, neighbors praised him yesterday for single-handedly raising dozens of unwanted children over the years.

But as the 51-year-old father faced charges of sexually abusing his 14-year-old adopted daughter, the neighbors also began to wonder whether something had gone terribly wrong behind the clay-colored facade of his restored four-story home.

The man at the heart of the enigma was once honored as a father of the year by the National Father's Day Committee and profiled as a hero on two national television news programs -- West 57th on CBS and Frontline on PBS -- for adopting more than 30 children who were, among other things, retarded, blind, deaf, emotionally disturbed or in wheelchairs. 2 Views Among Neighbors

To some neighbors, Mr. Dobosu is a personable, caring role model. To others he is a peculiar fellow, notable for his flamboyant attire -- balloon pants, bangles on his wrists and ankles, rings on his fingers and earrings.

Many questioned the wisdom of allowing a single man to have so many children. Of the 18 living with him at 257 West 139th Street, eight were girls 8 to 17 years old.

"How could a single man be taking care of so many kids?" asked Trina Warner, a model who lives across the street. "There should be a woman to look after the girls."

Jean Spruill, a singer who lived on the next block of 139th Street in the early 1980's and donated clothing for his children, said: "We all looked up to him because of what he was doing; he saved these children from the streets. I blame the system. He should never have been given more than three or four kids." Wide Range of Adoptions

Only two of Mr. Dobosu's children were from the New York City foster-care system, said Sheila Jack, a spokeswoman for the Human Resources Administration. She said she did not know when he adopted them. The rest apparently were adopted from other states.

"I don't think the New York agencies would give him any more children, but he did manage to get children from other states," said Penny Ferrer, director of adoption services at the H.R.A. "At some point there was clearly the assumption he was taking good care of the children."

Ms. Ferrer said the city did not limit the number of children a single person could adopt, as long as a home study by a certified adoption agency found that the prospective parent could provide for the child. There is no rule against a single man adopt ing girls. Mr. Dobosu was arrested Tuesday after his 14-year-old adopted daughter, a special-education student, told her guidance counselor at Public School 30 that he had sexually abused her.

She had gone forward earlier that day after a presentation by the Child Abuse Prevention Program, a private nonprofit agency that gives educational workshops in public schools, said Marion White, the agency's executive director. Mr. Dobosu was then questioned at the 32d Precinct police station and arrested there.

Yesterday Mr. Dobosu was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The complaint charged that on May 20, while threatening to harm his daughter, he had fondled her breasts and inserted his finger into her vagina. Prosecutor Interviews Children

The District Attorney's office was interviewing his other children yesterday to learn whether any had allegations of abuse to level at their adoptive father.

The children are now at home and being supervised by adopted siblings who are more than 18 years old and by Mr. Dobusu's sister, Ms. Jack said. Yesterday a young man who answered the phone at Mr. Dobosu's home said, "I'm sorry we can't talk at this moment until our lawyer advises us to do so."

Mr. Dobosu, who also used the name Kojo Odo, began adopting children in the early 1970's, The Associated Press reported in a 1983 profile about him.

In 1984 he moved to Ohio and spent several years there as an administrator for special adoptions in the State Department of Human Services. City Subsidizes Care of 2

Since returning to New York, he has survived in part with adoption subsidies he receives for his "special needs" children. New York City, for example, sends him $975 a month for the two city children he adopted, officials said.

His unconventional style and unusual calling have attracted laudatory newspaper articles and television broadcasts over the last decade. In its 1983 article, The A.P. wrote that Mr. Dobosu's children were "nurtured in his love, safe in the knowledge that their days of institutions and foster homes are over."

Jane Wallace told Time magazine that her account of him when she was a correspondent for West 57th had inspired her to adopt a child.

"I thought, 'Wow, if this guy can do this, what am I worried about?"' Ms. Wallace said.

On Mr. Dobosu's block, neighbors reacted with dismay and disbelief to news of his arrest. In the 1920s, Striver's Row won its name as a place where prominent blacks worked their way to success. To many of its current residents, Mr. Dobosu was helping some of society's most vulnerable children get their chance.

Edward Sherman, a photographer who has lived on the block for 18 years, said he would not believe the allegations against Mr. Dobosu until they were proved. 'A Very Positive Black Man'

"He's a very positive black man who was trying to provide troubled children a home," Mr. Sherman said. "He gravitates to children other folks would shy away from. Most folks wouldn't want someone crippled, or older black and Hispanic kids."

Some neighbors recalled particular kindnesses. Gloria Flores, owner of the corner bakery, said Mr. Dobosu pushed a little boy in a wheelchair to watch the Afro-American parade.

Ms. Spruill remembered a one-armed teen-age boy who became a basketball player while living with Mr. Dobosu, then was stabbed to death.

James Young said the Dobosu children would buy bags bags of roasted peanuts at his peanut stand. "They were just ordinary kids," he said. "They'd be out here playing."

Still, Mr. Young said, he wondered about the way Mr. Dobosu dressed. So did Ada Joseph, 75, a retired civil-service worker.

"He was peculiar," she said. "He didn't look like a person to take care of kids. But I thought, 'Maybe he takes care of them O.K.' I can't say anything against the kids."

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Family

I miss Kojo Odo and all my brothers and sisters from 139 St. aka Strivers Row dearly!

I was the youngest child in

I was the youngest child in that house, i still remember what happen

More articles

I found a few more articles on-line and posted them today.

More on the subjects

While I myself am so incredibly grateful and thankful that PPL has members strong enough and dedicated enough to file and update cases, there is an eerie sickness that goes with each added article, each piece that adds depth and colour to the picture of abuse in the respected and admired adoptive home.

For many abused adoptees, the treatment they saw or experienced growing-up may have seemed completely normal, and not at all odd or wrong.  For others, the wrong was known all along.... but what can an adopted kid do?

I remember back when I used to share childhood adoption stories on adoption forums/adoptee support groups.

I thought everyone lived like I did.

I didn't think I was all that different, so I didn't mind talking about it.

I didn't feel the full effect of what I went through (my own adoption story) until I read more about  happy lucky adoption stories... the type of stories that feature safe loving homes where normal sibling relationships (with or without the rivalry) took place under a roof  maintained by adopters who turned out to be strong loving heroes and valiant child protectors.  

As I get older, I find myself NOT wanting to share the details of my own story.... especially to those who insist adopters are not only incapable of negligence or abuse, but are not as  horrible as to direct all negligence and abuse towards the adopted children, only.

I know for some not familiar with the extent of PPL's archives, some of the abuse stories we feature are difficult to take-in.  Some of the stories seem so outrageous... so outside of the norm... so not at all reflective of the average adoptive parent or home.  These proud and happy adopters or adoptees forget, for some, the latest abuse update reflects more typical stuff victims of abusive adoptive homes are used to.  For some of us, each abuse story and outcome is exactly the same, with no significant change since the 1960's.

Since PPL's abuse pages have grown large enough to be noticed and NOT dismissed, I have noticed something happens when a former victim offers readers a word or two.  I have noticed as much as most people do not like to see or read not-so-happy, not-so-lucky adoption stories, even more have a difficult time acknowledging the surviving subjects who come back and simply add, "that was me".

I was glad to see a response of some sort was made.

I myself never know how to respond to the adult-child from our abuse pages.  Correction.  I know how my heart stops and drops, and I know that old familiar rawness comes back (from where?  it depends....), but I never know what to SAY to someone who quietly and anonymously states, "I was there, and I still remember".

I HATE what I remember.

I HATE when those memories, smells and reminders kick-in.

I HATE what I would do to myself because of all the things I remembered.  But I often have to remind myself, as I become familiar with each case added to PPL, I am not the subject; I am not the person/adoptee who comes back to confess, 'that article... it's about me and my Afamily'.  Maybe having media coverage and a format like ours (focused on abusive adoptive homes) is good and helpful.  I don't know; having the validation that goes with a media-covered piece about abuse in an adoptive home/family, and the investigation that ensues, was not my personal experience.  I would like to think having the stories exposed, as PPL exposes them, brings a measure of comfort and purpose; the survivors of such cases recognize exposure to such living conditions brings an awareness to many... something abused adoptees so desperately need!

I hope the anonymous poster is OK.  I hope that person found inner-strength, fought the demons that come with an abusive childhood, and somehow found love through generous and forgiving friends and safe intimate relationships with others.  Above all, I hope the responder found a way to forgive some of the many things abused adoptees are expected to forgive, for personal growth.  I know first-hand, none of that is easy.

I am among the many (uncounted) adult survivors still out there; I have been there ['there' being in a chaotic and abusive adoptive home], and I  have yet to hear anyone say to me the words so many want to hear: "I forgot all of that, and what it was like", (and truly mean it). 

For those who doubt the long-term effects of abuse/living in a highly dysfunctional home, (or simply don't know what that sort of living can do to a person, especially a kid), the body somehow always finds a way to remind the surviving adult what living like that can do to a fostered/adopted kid.  I hope the 'youngest one' from a less than award-winning winning adoptive home, (maintained by an  Afather of the Year ), has few physical reminders of the past, and I hope this person sees updates and added articles related to the case brings hope, (through building a broader band of awareness), and not just more reminders of the past... and an overwhelming sense of depressing doom. 

Thanks Kerry

It is often true that on our abuse cases, some of the victims and/or other family members identify themselves here.
And we have people who deny the stories as well.

I was not the victim of abuse as a child, so I don't know how I'd feel seeing my family detailed in the archives here.
I hope that the information can be healing for victims, just knowing the information is here... when they are ready to read it.... if they are ever ready.

I also hope that someday, child welfare authorities will note the similarities in some of these cases and stop making those same mistakes over over again.

Pound Pup Legacy