By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Cardinal Justin Rigali has announced the hiring of Leslie J. Davila as the new director of the archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection. She has 15 years experience in the field of victim services, including, since 1999, assistant director and a victim assistance coordinator in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

Her appointment follows the recent naming of Al Toczydlowski as delegate for investigations for sexual abuse cases, a function that will no longer come under the Office for Child and Youth Protection. {{more}}

In announcing Davila’s hiring, Cardinal Justin Rigali said, “For more than 15 years, Ms. Davila has been a tireless and compassionate advocate for Philadelphia’s underserved and often overwhelmed victims and witnesses. She comes to the Archdiocese with knowledge and expertise regarding the needs of victims and their families. With her assistance, the Archdiocese will build upon our services to victims and continue striving to protect our young people and create a safe environment in which they can grow and flourish.”

As director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection, Davila will oversee both the archdiocesan efforts to protect children and young people and the efforts toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused as minors.

Davila, a graduate of St. Ambrose School and Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia, has a master’s degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph’s University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from La Salle University. Since 2009 she has served as an adjunct professor at Community College of Philadelphia, where she has taught a variety of subjects, including sociology, criminal justice, juvenile justice and marriage and the family.

From 2002 to 2009 she also served as a training consultant for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“I taught all new victim advocates who came to the commission,” she said, explaining that entailed “teaching what it means to be a victim advocate, how to advocate and how to work with victims in crisis.”

Since 2002 she has served as a crisis responder on the Keystone Crisis Intervention Team, which provides crisis intervention services to victims and to surrounding communities in the wake of a traumatic event. She has twice served as a co-chair of the Philadelphia Coalition for Victim Advocacy, and in 2007 that group presented her with its Catherine Bachrach Award for exemplary service in support of victims and witnesses of crimes.

Victim advocacy as a career was not Davila’s original intent. As an undergraduate at La Salle she chose criminal justice courses because she hoped to go to law school. A requirement for her courses in her senior year was a mandatory internship. From a list of groups willing to take on an intern, she chose Women Against Rape, and her experience there affected her future career path.

“From that point on I knew that victim services would be my profession with the criminal justice field,” she said. “I would work with victims of crime in all forms.”

That was certainly true in the District Attorney’s Office where she worked with victims of all ages, from children to senior citizens, dealing with issues from child abuse to murder.

Child sexual abuse “is an absolute issue,” Davila said. “It isn’t something that is just dramatized as a hot topic. It is a constant issue; it is a problem so absolute in all types of perpetrators.”

As for coming to the Archdiocese, “I’m very excited about it,” she said.

Her new duties will not just cover services to victims of child abuse; it will also involve the implementation of programs to prevent it in the first place.

The Archdiocese already has a Safe Environment Program in place, Davila said. “I’ll be focusing on moving forward, deciding on practices for all situations with significant contact with children,” she said.

“That is the focus of the Safe Environment Program now, making sure that everyone is aware of appropriate boundaries with children and how to appropriately interact with them in an effort to prevent further victimization. If they observe something that is not right, it is their obligation under the law to report it.”

The program covers “anyone who significantly volunteers at a school, teachers, priests, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, any workers,” she said. “I would stress it is also not just their obligation to behave properly but also to inform appropriate authorities when something happens that shouldn’t happen.”

The other task of Davila’s office is to provide services for victims of child sexual abuse.

“My vision is the Archdiocese is a very large religious institution and should offer services.”

To that end her office will continue to offer services, as it has done in the past. However, if some victims wish to receive service through a provider other than the Archdiocese, “it doesn’t have to be through us,” she said. “We are here to support victims. The reality is I just want them to get help. My goal is that victims have a voice in how they are served.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.