Biological daughter alleges abuse

Date: 2005-09-21

KRISTA SCHULTZ

"It was like living in a concentration camp, how you don't have your freedom or your rights. We weren't in cages, but we were prisoners, prisoners in our own home," said Jenna Gravelle, 31, daughter of Michael Gravelle and stepdaughter of Sharen Gravelle.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle of Clarksfield Township are accused of confining at least nine of their 11 adopted special-needs children in cages. The children are currently living in four separate foster homes; the couple has not been charged.

Jenna Gravelle alleged her father not only emotionally abused her and one brother during childhood, but also sexually molested her since as early as she can remember.

"Everyone just keeps telling me what a nice man he is. I'm not proud to be related to Michael Gravelle. I'm hiding out. But I thought by telling my story, I could keep those children from going back there," Jenna Gravelle said.

Jenna Gravelle claims the abuse started when she was a young child. She was living with Michael and her mother, Judith Corbbett, and two brothers.

Jenna Gravelle said she believes her mother, who died in summer 1986, shortly before Jenna's 12th birthday, knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

"As a mother myself, I can't imagine her not being aware of it," said Jenna Gravelle, now mother to an 8-year-old son. "But growing up, other, than being abused, there was a sense of family. We ate together, my dad was active in sports with my brothers. We had everything we could possibly want when my mom was alive."

After Corbbett died, Jenna Gravelle said her father expressed worry that his abuse -- which, she said, never included sexual intercourse -- might escalate.

"His comment to me was something along the lines of now that my mom had passed away, there were no longer any barriers," she said, adding her father feared he might want to engage in intercourse in the future if he didn't get help.

According to Jenna Gravelle, Michael Gravelle allegedly confided about his behavior to a relative in New Jersey, who possibly worked for a children services department there. The female relative reportedly gave Michael Gravelle an ultimatum -- if he didn't reveal his behavior to authorities, she would.

Jenna Gravelle claims that within months after her mother's death, Michael Gravelle turned himself in to Lorain County Children Services and began treatment in a program addressing his behavior.

Patti Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Lorain County Children Services -- a branch of the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services -- said yesterday her office refused to disclose any information on the Gravelle case.

Jenna Gravelle said she was removed from her father's care during the treatment and not returned until summer 1987.

"I was out of the home for the whole school year, until almost the end of the year when I was brought back," she said.

Jenna Gravelle said it was during the treatment meetings that her father met Sharen Johns, who became his wife in 1987. Jenna Gravelle said the treatment meetings were not only for sexual abusers but those affected in other ways by abuse.

"That's where he met Sharen," Gravelle said of her father's treatment program. "Isn't that lovely?"

Jenna Gravelle said after Michael and Sharen married, the sexual abuse subsided, except for one incident around the time Gravelle was 15.

"I was on the phone with my best friend and he came in and rubbed up on me. But it was nothing outrageous," Gravelle said.

But with sexual abuse ebbing, emotional abuse and neglect took its place against she and at least one brother, she said.

According to court records, Gravelle had two brothers, one 14 and one 10, when Michael and Sharen married.

"We were always wondering, what is going to happen today? What is going to be taken away from me today?" she said. "I had to pay rent, we were not allowed to use the washer and dryer. They rarely bought us food, and when they did, we didn't have the appliances to open it. We couldn't use the stove. My dad would follow me to school. They took away all my pictures and only let me keep one photo of my mom. It was a lot of emotional abuse, a lot of hurt.

"I didn't get to go to high school dances. I didn't get to go to the mall, or football games."

But when she was 16, Jenna Gravelle said she had endured enough and ran away to an Elyria center for kids that has since closed. She said she has not seen Sharen Gravelle since she left home, and has talked to her father only on the phone. She said she didn't even own a single picture of her father and stepmother.

After leaving, Jenna Gravelle said she then bounced around living with neighbors, friends, boyfriends and in group homes until she was accepted at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea. She was housed through a special program on campus that specifically aided single parents, since she then had her young son, and put herself through school.

"I got a lot of student loans and have some relatives that helped me out," said Jenna, who graduated in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

She said her education has helped her cope with her childhood and raise her own son.

"The more education you have, the more you understand," she said. "I know I'm not a perfect mother by any means, nobody is, but I think the biggest mistake I have made with my own son is I have stopped my life and devoted everything to him. I am now very overprotective."

But Gravelle said she will continue to talk publicly to ensure her father's adopted children are not returned to him and his wife.

"I'm tired of being in the news and in the papers. But it seems like everyone's minimizing it, what he did to me and those poor babies," she said. "The children should never go back there and it sounds to me like the prosecution is not doing too much about it. They haven't been charged yet. I worry that these children will potentially go home."

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