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Lawsuit Over Sex-Trafficked Teen Could Stop Schools From Hiding Kids’ Dysphoria

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Image CreditLawrence Murray / Flickr / CC by 2.0, cropped

Sage’s story shows the devastating harm to children when ideologically captured institutions wrest control from parents of a child’s life.


The mother of a Virginia teen sex-trafficked twice after her school concealed her newly asserted gender identity has filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against school staff and a Maryland public defender who alleged parental “misgendering” and abuse. The complaint was filed Aug. 22 in the Western District of Virginia court on behalf of Michele Blair by the Child and Parental Rights Campaign (CPRC) with support from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR).

It alleges that the defendants’ actions—first in withholding vital information about the girl’s gender identification and related assault in the boys’ bathroom, then later by falsely alleging abuse to deprive her mother of custody—resulted in the child’s ordeal at the hands of sexual predators not once, but twice. Blair v. Appomattox et al. will set critical precedents in two areas of roiling national debate: parental notification of gender transition in schools and parental custody relating to gender identity.

Public Schools Hide Kids’ Dysphoria

More than 10 million children this fall returned to public schools that conceal kids’ transgender identities from parents. A California case recently settled for $100,000 is one of several lawsuits filed by parents whose children were secretly transitioned in school.

The Blair suit, however, is groundbreaking for displaying the liability schools risk when secret-keeping results in tragedy. Safely back in her loving home for more than a year now, Sage still suffers persistent nightmares and panic attacks. She is receiving intensive therapy for complex PTSD, her mother reports, a diagnosis related to prolonged helplessness amid extreme trauma.

The reason for the secrecy that prefaced her ordeal no longer exists: Sage has embraced her sex, reflecting in hindsight that she had “just wanted to make friends” at her new school by claiming to be a boy.

How gender identity relates to “abuse” is fiercely debated nationwide. In some states including California, pending legislation categorizes parental non-affirmation of gender dysphoria as abuse. The political cost of angering parents of all backgrounds has begun to affect 2024 campaigns, as demonstrated by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unexpected veto of one of these bills.

In 2023, Virginia lawmakers debated “Sage’s Law,” requiring parental notification in schools and clarifying that raising a child according to his or her sex may not be considered abuse. Virginia Senate Democrats killed Sage’s Law, and it has become a campaign issue. In fact, the transgender delegate who vehemently opposed House Bill 2432 is now facing a veteran anti-trafficking leader championing the bill.

Given the lack of evidence for benefits to minors from “gender-affirming care” and the tremendous risk and potential for regret, the question of what constitutes “abuse” and grounds for state intervention is urgent.

“Sage’s story is an absolute tragedy that no child should ever have to endure. But what is even worse is that it was entirely preventable,” said attorney Vernadette Broyles in announcing the lawsuit. “School administrators and public officials alike decided that their authority superseded that of her parents…This is about who has the best interests of the child at heart, who knows that child better than anyone else, and ultimately who must make important personal decisions for a child.”

An ‘Entirely Preventable’ Nightmare

Sage’s heartbreaking story was documented in The Federalist last winter, when Delegate Dave LaRock introduced Sage’s Law in the Virginia General Assembly. She was a 14-year-old freshman at Appomattox County High School in 2021 when her school allegedly reinforced her claim to be male and concealed it from her parents. She was severely bullied, then assaulted in the male bathroom school employees told her to use, according to the complaint.

Sage ran away, leaving a note expressing fear of further violence. She was caught by a predator who drugged and raped her, then drove her into Washington, DC, where other men sex-trafficked her into Maryland.

When the FBI rescued Sage in Baltimore eight days later, a public defender alleged “misgendering” and abuse at home, so a judge withheld custody from Sage’s loving parents for more than two months. Instead, the judge ordered Sage to a Maryland state home in male quarters, where she was assaulted again, the lawsuit says. Sage fled and was once again caught by a predator and raped, drugged, starved, and tortured, this time for months before law enforcement found her in Texas.

Seeking Justice for Sage

The 55-page complaint lays out nine causes of action, seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” plus court costs for “tortious interference with the parent-child relationship, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, professional malpractice, and other rights” resulting in extreme harm to Sage and her mother. The first four causes of action target Appomattox County High School counselors Dena Olsen and Avery Via, Superintendent Annette Bennett, and the school board.

The remaining causes contain shocking charges against Maryland public defender Aneesa Khan and the school counselors of malpractice, perjury, and conspiracy “aimed at depriving Mrs. Blair of custody of her daughter and keeping [Sage] in Maryland to be affirmed in a male identity.” The complaint alleges the trio knowingly presented false testimony of abuse to Judge Robert Kershaw, and that their success in convincing him to keep Sage from her parents resulted in her subsequent abuse in a state home and in her second, months-long victimization.

Lawsuit: Hiding Info Led to Sex Trafficking

The Appomattox defendants, contends the lawsuit, concealed both the school’s unauthorized “mental health intervention” affirming Sage as male and the resultant student “bullying, verbal, physical and sexual assault.” It alleges they failed to take corrective action or to initiate a Title IX sexual harassment investigation, instead directing the girl into the male bathroom, where she was assaulted.

Among the most damning allegations is the counselors’ egregious disregard for Sage’s history of trauma and mental health concerns. Michele had provided these to the school expecting they would work closely with her like Sage’s previous school had, she described in testimony to Virginia’s legislature.

Sage lost her father as a baby and had been through six foster homes by age two when Michele, her biological grandmother, adopted her. Michele recalls Sage’s unusual silence as a child: she had learned not to cry because adults didn’t respond.

With years of love, she developed into a happy child. Then a wave of mental health issues emerged with puberty, compounded by Covid isolation. As a trained Virginia Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Michele sought professional help for Sage, including hospitalization the summer before she entered high school.

Despite this known vulnerability, contends the lawsuit, Appomattox kept Sage’s parents in the dark even once reports surfaced of assault in the boys’ bathroom. School personnel met repeatedly with Sage alone, culminating in an emotional session on August 25, 2021 where they threatened she could be sued if she made false allegations against the boys, the lawsuit says. Sage suffered a “psychotic break,” alleges the lawsuit, and ran away that night into the nightmare that followed.

Counselors, Public Defender ‘Conspired’

The night Sage was rescued in Baltimore, she spent hours alone at the hospital undergoing a difficult rape exam into the wee hours of the morning. As she was being driven to a detention center afterward, the complaint alleges, Sage asked that her mother be called to take her home. This request was denied and she was locked in solitary detention. Later that day, Khan was claiming in court that the Blairs were abusive and Sage did not want to go home.

Among the disturbing facts alleged are sudden, mysterious phone calls originating from self-described “mandated reporters” to the Appomattox County child abuse hotline hours after Sage was found on September 3, “before her rescue and location were known to anyone but law enforcement, Mrs. Blair and Ms. Khan.”

Other reports followed, claiming Michele had subjected Sage to “‘conversion therapy’ aimed at changing [Sage’s] gender identity.” This was “factually impossible,” as Michele allegedly only became aware of the gender identity shift the night Sage ran away. In fact, asserts the complaint, Khan conspired with Olsen and Via to “facilitat[e] the initiation of child protective services investigations in Virginia and Maryland.”

There are further allegations of grievous cruelty to a traumatized young rape victim: Sage was never informed her parents were waiting for her right outside the jail; Khan convinced Sage to lie to the court that her parents had abused her; Khan told the child her mother no longer wanted her, and withheld all the gifts and loving letters Michele sent to Sage at the Maryland children’s home.

These “extreme and outrageous actions intentionally aimed at harming…Mrs. Blair’s parental relationship with [Sage]” were allegedly “all because Ms. Khan believed that [Sage] must be affirmed as male,” the lawsuit says. According to a text from Sage to a friend, Khan had the stated ambition of taking her case to the Supreme Court.

Ideology Trumps Care for Trauma

Broyles stated to The Federalist Radio Hour that “ideology overwhelmed everything we know about trauma, about sex abuse victims, about children needing their parents and how they should be restored [to them] immediately…unless there’s actual proof of…abuse.” Instead, a 100-pound, deeply wounded girl with no criminal record was jailed for several days, then housed with troubled teenage boys, “where she was exposed to drugs, further sexual harassment and assault.”

Broyles reasoned Sage was treated “as if she’s a juvenile delinquent…in order to maintain control.” The legal maneuvering in Maryland lasted more than two months, with Judge Kershaw holding multiple hearings that delayed Sage’s return to Virginia required under the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ).

Khan’s alleged narrative of abandonment fell on receptive ground: Sage told Michele months later how much she’d missed her, but tried not to, because she “knew” Michele didn’t want her. The shame and unworthiness felt by victims of sexual exploitation is well-documented. “Trauma-related shame is an irrational and biological response…connected to the specific reactions of denial, hiding, and running away,” explains one study.

A Critical Precedent on School Secrecy

The school secrecy that allegedly facilitated Sage’s ordeal is an intense national debate. In Virginia, leftist school boards like Fairfax County’s are defying Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new model policies requiring parental notification and use of privacy facilities by sex, not gender identity. California and New Jersey are suing their own constituents, at constituent expense, for the right to deceive them about their own children.

Parents are fighting back, and surveys show that even left-leaning voters overwhelmingly favor parental notification in schools. Yet many Democrat politicians fiercely oppose it. They are backstopped by a billion-dollar industry that profits from pediatric transition and funds pro-secrecy activists in schools and legislatures, facilitating access to lifelong patients.

Significantly, records indicate Appomattox staff followed the same principle of instant, uncritical, and secret affirmation dictated by LGBT activistcrafted model policies that have infiltrated thousands of schools. The “Schools in Transition” model policy insists “affirming a child’s gender identity is in a child’s best interest,” and that school personnel have “unique insight into the student’s needs without the biases parents can or are perceived to have.”

An Essential Precedent on Children’s Rights

This raises the critical question: does refusal to affirm a child as the opposite sex constitute “abuse” and grounds for removal from parental custody, as Khan advocated in court? Activists are training legal officials and law students that it does.

A bill California’s legislature passed would transfer children to state custody where, as Sage experienced, the risk of actual abuse skyrockets. Simultaneously, by dictating that foster parents “affirm” kids’ sexual identities, California is reducing the homes available to needy foster kids.

In some states, family custody is already decided on this basis. While all 50 states are bound by the ICJ governing the return of runaway minors, some have passed “refuge” laws preventing the return of children who have run or been taken across state lines for “gender-affirming care.”

This wildly aggressive intrusion into parental rights is remarkable not only for the destruction it has wrought, but for the absence of justification. As other nations have concluded, there is a profound lack of scientific evidence to support pediatric gender transitions. And tens of thousands of detransitioners now bitterly regret the lifelong medical consequences of adults affirming their childhood choices.

The fundamental question in Blair v. Appomattox et al. is whether fit parents or the state rightfully decide a child’s best interests. Sage’s story as described in the complaint shows the devastating potential harm to children when ideologically captured institutions wrest control of a child’s life from parents. While the case will set critical precedents in schools and courts, it also highlights the pressing need for laws reinforcing the right of parents to protect their children from state overreach.

Michele says she’s filing this lawsuit in the “hope…that no parent ever has to go through what [she] did to protect their child.”

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