Quiet tragedy: violence against carriers p.8

By: Robert Neuwirth Unprotected, kids of all ages rove the streets in towns across America at all hours to deliver the news and earn a buck ? but some pay the
ultimate price
Just 11 years old, Angelica Padilla proudly worked two paper routes after school. On Aug. 13, she delivered the Willimantic, Conn., Chronicle door to door, just like usual.
The sweet, shy fifth-grader didn't return home at 4 p.m. as she had promised her mother. As dusk set in, the search started. Just past midnight, police found her body in a wooded area near the apartment complex where she lived. Her throat was slashed so deeply her head was almost severed. A prosecutor would later say her body was ripped apart "the same way a farmer butchers a pig."
Chronicle publisher Kevin Crosbie said emphatically, "Her route was fully delivered" before she met her doom, and there was "no indication" the attack "had anything to do with the route."
All 90 of the Chronicle's youth carriers ? some just 10 years old ? dutifully delivered their routes the day after Angelica's body was discovered, Crosbie said, adding, "We've never had a down route. It was amazing."
The Chronicle contributed $450 to memorial funds for Angelica Padilla.
A paroled sex offender who lived in a neighboring building was arrested and charged in the attack.
The untimely death of the Connecticut girl highlights a dangerous dimension of the newspaper business: violence against carriers.
"The No. 1 cause of child-labor death or injury in New York state is, in fact, newspaper delivery," said Dorianne Beyer, general counsel of the National Child Labor Committee, a New York City-based group that lobbied for federal child-labor laws.
When reporters are assassinated, or beaten or jailed, protests are lodged, awards are given by press freedom organizations, and colleagues in the press take up their cause. Crimes against carriers, meanwhile, rarely get beyond the local news.
? In 1997, a 14-year-old carrier for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah was grabbed from her bicycle early one morning, carried away and raped ? the fourth recent attack of its kind in the area.
? Last June, in Franklin, Ind., Heather Sites, a 15-year-old Daily Journal carrier, was assaulted as she tossed papers onto subscribers' porches. Her screams attracted the attention of homeowners, who scared off her predator. A 21-year-old man stands accused of the crime.
? In Virginia, a teenage carrier sued the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record after he was sexually assaulted while on his route in 1989. Evidence in his civil case, decided on appeal this year in state Supreme Court, detailed three assaults on carriers over a five-year span ? including one four months before the attack involved in the suit. The court said the newspaper had a general duty to train carriers, but no specific duty to inform them of crime patterns ? and was therefore not liable for the assault.
Gary Anderson, circulation director for the rural Shenandoah Valley daily, counted six violent incidents against carriers from 1984 through 1993. In response, the paper has produced an educational video for carriers, provided them whistles to blow in emergencies, and raised the minimum age for carriers to 14, from 12. Since the age increase, no carriers have been attacked.
"I would advise any newspaper not to consider kids under the age of 14," he said, adding: "Newspapers need to be forthcoming. If they've had crimes, they need to tell about them."
While many circulation executives can cite similar experiences of carriers assaulted, robbed, injured in auto accidents, or worse, statistics are nearly nonexistent. The Newspaper Association of America, the largest industry trade group, representing 1,700 dailies, does not track violence against the nation's 198,642 youth carriers and offers no programs in carrier safety.
"Training varies widely from newspaper to newspaper," said John Murray, NAA's chief of circulation and marketing. "It's not something we measure or track."
Nor does the federal government. Though the labor department tracks all sorts of crimes and occupational injuries, it doesn't quantify assaults on youth carriers. Statistics on workplace injuries do show that between 1995 and 1996 ? the most recent data available ? 31 news vendors, the category that includes carriers, died on the job, and another 786 were injured.
"Any time a tragedy occurs, people think, 'Is there anything in the world we could have done?' " said lawyer Michael Zinser, whose Nashville-based Zinser & Patterson represents hundreds of papers. "But you can't protect anybody from a predator, whether it's a child or an adult."
Since the National Labor Standards Act outlawed most child labor in 1938, the newspapers have benefited from a sweeping exemption ? a loophole allowing kids of any age to work as carriers. And many states follow suit. According to the National Child Labor Committee, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut and Ohio, among others, set no minimum age for youth carriers. Florida, California, and Washington, D.C., require carriers to be at least 10 ? even in high-crime areas. New York state prohibits children under 11 from delivering newspapers. And in Massachusetts, where the minimum age used to be 12, the law was relaxed about a decade ago to permit kids as young as 9 to deliver papers ? as long as each paper adopts a safety program.
The safety of carriers, especially kids, has confounded newspapers for years. It is a complex problem with legal, financial and social implications. Since crime pervades nearly every aspect of life, and since newspapers dispatch thousands of carriers everyday into the streets, there is no sure way to guarantee their safety. What's more, since the overwhelming majority of carriers are independent contractors ? not employees ? the relationship is constrained by law, meaning newspapers cannot directly manage them and assume little liability for them.
Because most carriers are independent contractors, not employees, newspapers have a hard time forcing them to adopt safety protocols, Zinser said.
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch won't take carriers under 12, said assistant circulation manager Terry DeVassie, who estimates three or four of his 2,029 youth carriers have been held up, beaten up or shaken up in the past year. "That's way too many," he said. "Even one is too many."
Child advocates say newspaper delivery is particularly dangerous. "Kids are always vulnerable when they're going door to door," said Jeffrey Newman, executive director of the National Child Labor Committee.
Newspapers won their exemption from U.S. child-labor laws partly because advocates faced a brutal political reality, Newman said, "The people who were trying to promote child-labor laws were trying to get the support of newspapers."
Angelica Padilla's sad ending eerily mirrored the fates of Joel Trinidad, a 14-year-old Chicago Sun-Times carrier, and Christy Ann Fornoff, a 13-year-old delivery
?(Angelica Padilla, 11, never returned from her route.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 12,1998) [caption]


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